PRETORIA – When Lungi Ngidi made his return from a stress fracture of his lower back, which had kept him off the playing field for four months, in October 2017, it was explosive.
He took three wickets in 10 balls on a lively Wanderers track against the Lions, within half an hour of the match starting. Sunday’s return after three months out with a knee injury, wasn’t as combustible but it crackled. For now, that is good enough.
Back in 2017 Ngidi had only three International T20 caps to his name, now he is critical to the Proteas’ World Cup strategy, has four Test caps and a Man of the Match award against Virat Kohli’s Indians to his name.
So, his return here was of great interest to all involved with the national team. Ottis Gibson and Faf du Plessis – down in Durban preparing for the first Test against Sri Lanka – will, if they didn’t watch, make time to do so at some point.
What they see will please them. First Ngidi got through nine overs – broken up into four spells – without any outward discomfort from the knee injury picked up in that one-off T20 International against Australia last November. Second, his bowling, for someone given such an extended period on the sidelines, was excellent.
He lacked rhythm and pace, but that will improve as he gets more game time under his belt, something the national selectors want. They’ve chosen to keep him out of the international spotlight for now by not including him in the Test squad for Sri Lanka.
South Africa has sufficient fast bowling resources for that assignment and Ngidi can get on with getting bowling fit while playing for his domestic franchise. Should he get through the next few weeks, he should be included for the One-Dayers against the Sri Lankans which start on March 3.
His opening overs were understandably loose, and in fact his first wicket, that of Grant Mokoena, was with a wretched delivery, short and wide, which the Knights opener did well to reach. Ngidi tightened his lines thereafter, bowled closer to the stumps, with his natural in-ducker cramping the batsmen for room.
His second wicket came as a result of an error from the batsman too, with the Knights’ other opener Andries Gous – who’d taken advantage of some charitable offerings from Chris Morris earlier – trying to pull one that bounced steeply and which he gloved behind to Heinrich Klaasen.
Ngidi’s last spell came at the ‘death’ where he mixed up his pace effectively, controlled his length properly too and conceded just 11 runs in his last two overs.
Before that period, the Knights’ innings was dominated by two batsmen. Keegan Petersen, the highest run-scorer in this season’s Four-Day Series transferred that form to the 50-over format with an excellent maiden limited overs century.
He was striking the ball crisply from the moment he arrived at the crease, but had to reign himself in, as wickets fell quickly at the other end. The Knights were in deep trouble at 88/5 in the 21st over when Petersen was joined by veteran all-rounder Ryan McLaren.
Together the pair added 174 runs for the sixth wicket, a new record for this competition. Petersen finished on 107 not out off 139 balls with 12 fours. McLaren, playing his 202nd limited overs match, was not out on 80, pacing his innings superbly, facing 83 balls and hitting seven fours and a six.
Ngidi finished with 2/35, but there was some disciplined work from the spinners Shaun von Berg (0/45) and Tabraiz Shamsi (1/48). Less disciplined was Morris whose nine overs cost 54, in which he conceded eight fours and a six, which will not have helped alleviate criticism of his consistency – or lack thereof.
The Titans made mincemeat of the chase against a very poor Knights attack. Opener Tony de Zorzi scored a career-best 115 not out (124b, 11x4, 2x6) and Henry Davids (84) shared a stand of 179 in 26.4 overs. Heino Kuhn added an unbeaten 52 as the Titans won with 68 balls to spare, earning a bonus point in the process.
VICTORY: We open our #MODC campaign with a convincing 9 wicket win over @KnightsCricket.— The Titans (@Titans_Cricket) February 10, 2019
A great display display with the bat by Davids (84), de Zorzi (119*) & Kuhn (52*) earned us 268 runs.
In his return Ngidi got figures of 2-35 & an economy of 3.88#SkyBlues #TTNvKNI #MODC pic.twitter.com/4JMZIzCLCF