JOHANNESBURG – Like a kid who’s been denied his favourite candy, Lungi Ngidi tucked in with relish when given the new ball here on Monday.
Four painful months sidelined with a stress fracture came to an end on Monday morning; no more rehab, gym and bowling in the nets – this was it, some proper cricket, and the 21-year-old wanted to make every second count.
He wasted little time getting stuck into the Lions, who’d won the toss and probably hadn’t reckoned on running into someone so keen to prove a point.
Ngidi had made such an impression last summer when given his first taste of international cricket – in three T20 matches against Sri Lanka – but was unable to build on that after injuring his side in the final match of the series at Newlands.
He was back by the winter, though, selected for the SA A side that toured England, where he picked up the stress fracture that has sidelined him since June.
Ngidi had one match for the Northerns semi-professional team two weeks ago, but otherwise he’s been in the gym – he looked noticeably stronger than last season – and he’s bowled plenty at training.
By all accounts he could have played last week against the Dolphins in Pietermaritzburg, but why waste time on a flat pitch at the City Oval when the Wanderers beckoned?
Within 10 balls on Monday, he had three wickets – Stephen Cook was caught at point off a leading edge, Reeza Hendricks edged to third slip and Rassie van der Dussen had his off-stump removed by one that slanted back into him.
Four overs later, Nicky van den Bergh was adjudged lbw, leaving the Lions at 23/4.
It wasn’t perfect by Ngidi, but it was pretty damn good as he showed excellent rhythm and very good pace, causing discomfort as he locked on to a good line and length in a good quality opening spell of five overs.
Omphile Ramela had put his body on the line while all around him floundered against Ngidi, copping blows on the hip, chest and in the groin as he attempted to hold the Lions together.
Bjorn Fortuin, promoted up the order after Wiaan Mulder was late in arriving from East London, played fluently – taking advantage after Ngidi was forced to take a break.
Together the pair added 100 runs for the sixth wicket, Fortuin pouncing on anything loose, while Ramela was more circumspect.
The Titans, practicing caution given that this is his first game back, waited for 90 minutes after lunch before bowling Ngidi again.
And in a three-over burst he picked up Ramela for 63 – with a beautiful ball that went away from the left-hander and was edged behind – while Mulder couldn’t get out of the way of a short one angled in at him, the ball looping off the edge to wicket-keeper Heinrich Klaasen.
Ngidi registered career-best figures of 6/37 from 13 overs, a joyous return for a bowler for whom there are high expectations.
Leg-spinner Shaun von Berg wrapped up the tail, including Fortuin for 80 (202 minutes, 152 balls, 13x4), taking three wickets to put the Titans firmly in control as they dismissed the Lions for 180.
They continued to press home their advantage thanks to Test opening pair Aiden Markram (49 not out) – who was dropped at slip by Cook on 12 – and Dean Elgar (34).
Aya Myoli picked up two late wickets to give the Lions some hope, but they ended the day with a lead of just 84 runs as the Titans finished on 96/2.