JOHANNESBURG – The toothy grin Lungi Ngidi wore after the first day’s play at the Wanderers on Monday wasn’t solely down to producing career-best figures, but also a illustration of joy that he was back doing what he loves.
He may only be 21, with a professional career that’s in its infancy, but already Ngidi’s had a taste of the big time, and having performed as well as he did in three T20 Internationals last summer, many have scripted a big future for him.
So, to have had it taken away in the winter with a stress fracture was a scary moment. However, with the help of the Titans’ trainers, he’s come back a stronger player – both mentally and physically.
Ngidi produced one of the highlights of this season’s Sunfoil Series by picking up 6/37, including four wickets in a bruising opening spell from the Golf Course End.
Sure there was assistance from the pitch, but for a bowler playing his first serious match in four months after such a debilitating injury, it was a massive statement of intent.
“I was very nervous before going on the field, but our coach (Mark Boucher) just said to do the basics. There was a lot of assistance in the wicket, and I made sure I exploited that as much as I could. Just hit a good area, the ball did the rest,” said Ngidi.
That first spell saw him pick up a wicket with the third ball of the match, when he had Stephen Cook caught at point, and he finished with 4/24 from those five overs.
Ngidi’s 13 overs were split over four spells – not in any way to ease him back into the fold he said, but because some of his teammates were relishing bowling on the lively surface too.
“The quick, short bursts helped, it worked out very well. It’s in the plans, but it goes in conjunction with the other bowlers to keep going. I’m good to bowl as many as they need me to,” he said.
“Sizwe Hadebe (physio) and Tumi Masekela (trainer) have really put in a lot of hard work with me. They spent a lot of time with me.
“Tumi – having played – helped me mentally a lot, the time off the field, I’ve had a lot to work on in terms of fitness and being ready.
“I felt I wasn’t alone throughout the process. I was just itching to come back and play, and finally got the call.”
Ngidi looks noticeably stronger than last season, the result of many hours in the gym, which has impressed teammates and helped make him a better bowler.
“I’ve been in the gym a lot. A lot of people have pointed out that I look a lot better, that’s a good thing.
“I’ve been pushed a lot – out of my comfort zone, which has been very good for me. I’ve lost a lot of weight, it feels very good to just run in and bowl now, there’s not that fatigue that used to set in very early.”
From the opposition’s perspective, there was praise for Ngidi’s control from Omphile Ramela, who fought for over three hours and scored 63.
“He presents the seam well. On a pitch like that, if you present the seam, you’ll get the most movement out of it,” said Ramela.
“Even in the afternoon, he was extracting movement and bounce and that’s because he presents the seam, he hits the pitch, he’s got a height advantage too.
“Seam presentation, on a good wicket, with the ball in good areas, you’ll trouble many batsmen.”