Aakash Chopra and Daryll Cullinan talk about how Lungi Ngidi’s debut performance impressed them in Centurion
From the highest of highs almost a year ago, when he made his T20I debut before his 21st birthday to the lowest of lows, when a stress fracture forced him to be withdrawn from the South Africa A tour of England during the English summer, Lungi Ngidi has finally been able to have his happily ever after at his home ground this weekend.
“That [the injury] was one of the biggest challenges I have had in my career, going from such a high to such a low in such a short space of time,” Ngidi said. “It was tough for me because I thought I was doing all the right things but the results just weren’t going my way. I got a lot of time to reflect and get to know myself as a person, and I got through it. I am a lot stronger than I thought I was. It helped me with a lot of confidence going forward.”
Instead of spending the months between July and September auditioning for a place alongside Kagiso Rabada, Ngidi was on the physiotherapist’s bed, in conversation with Titans’ coach Mark Boucher and at university picking up extra modules in his Labour Law degree. He committed to his fitness and to getting stronger so he could be faster, when he would eventually make his return.
“The whole off-season I was in the gym. I had to lose a lot of weight. That was tough,” Ngidi said. “One of the main things was diet and changing my lifestyle. That was also pretty difficult, but it’s helped me in the long run. And our coach [Boucher] as well – we had to have a few hard chats behind closed doors. Some honest chats as well. But they have helped me in the long run.”
The end result is that Ngidi is eight kilograms lighter, more muscular, and trusts his action. He has picked up a few yards of pace and was considered ready to make his Test debut after playing only one first-class game this season. Ngidi took nine wickets at the Wanderers earlier in the summer. He had never been seen by captain Faf du Plessis before Friday but was picked on the evidence of one practice session in which Ngidi impressed Ottis Gibson and du Plessis.
It’s easy to see why Ngidi caught their eye. He is quick – and bowled upwards of 150kph – while asking constant questions of world-class line-up. Ngidi’s basic principle was to “stick to my lengths,” and “keep it as basic as possible.” Even though the wicket was not a “typical Centurion pitch,” which usually has a “lot more bounce,” Ngidi hit the wicket hard and challenged Virat Kohli to the max.
Ngidi revealed his plan was similar to Vernon Philander’s at Newlands, and he was aiming for the pads. He had an lbw decision reviewed against Kohli and a faint edge denied him his first Test wicket. “In my first spell I hit the pad a few times, so I thought that was a vulnerable area for him,” Ngidi said. “He kept shifting across and getting more into my bowling line, so I thought maybe shoot one into the stumps. I nearly got him. I thought I had him. I thought he had hit the ground. When I saw that edge, I kind of dropped a bit, but I knew I had to get back on the ball.”
The maiden Test wicket eventually came when he had Parthiv Patel caught behind. Ngidi put that down to Philander’s advice of bringing the ball into the batsman. “I actually had goosebumps. I was talking to Vernon in terms of gameplans on how to get that wicket. Listening to someone with so much knowledge, and it planning out exactly the way he was telling me, it made me really happy and believe that I can perform at this level.”
And that is a height Ngidi has now scaled.