JOHANNESBURG – South Africa may owe MS Dhoni a glass of its finest one day if Lungi Ngidi’s progress continues at the accelerated rate that occurred during the second half of the IPL.
In his own laidback manner, the 22-year-old Ngidi feels like a player transformed after his stint in the IPL, where under Dhoni’s leadership at the Chennai Super Kings he became one of the franchise’s heroes following their triumph in that tournament.
“I’ve gained a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities as a player,” Ngidi said at the Wanderers yesterday, where along with the rest of the contracted Proteas players, he was put through his paces on a second day of special fitness assessments.
“To have international players, not just the South African cricketers back you like that, it really put me in a good head space ... that stuff gives you confidence.”
Ngidi may only have played the second half of the tournament but his impact was enormous. He claimed 11 wickets - one every 14 balls - and his economy rate was just six - an astounding figure in that competition.
His form allowed Chennai to make a major switch tactically, moving from spin dependence, to one that was led primarily by pace - with Ngidi at the forefront.
“I talked to Ottis (Gibson) before I left and he emphasised the importance of continuing to do the basics well. Running into (Super Kings assistant coach) Eric Simons on that side helped me a lot, too.”
Conditions were also in his favour. For the match in Pune against the Punjab franchise, Ngidi got a surface that was more Highveld, than Maharashtra. He took 4/10 that day, earning the Man of the Match award.
“The wickets were actually a lot better than I expected, so that was pleasing. Just to be able to play in those conditions, the heat, the humidity, has put me in a better position to face Sri Lankan conditions.”
And Sri Lanka is the next assignment on the calendar for Ngidi and Co, but despite his fine performances in the IPL, he is still unsure whether he will be in the starting XI on that tour.
“It’s still difficult for me, having played only a few international games; we still have guys like Dale (Steyn), Vern (Philander) and KG (Rabada) who are frontline bowlers, I’m trying to add to the pack, strengthen the group at the moment, it’s difficult to say where I fit in but whenever called upon, there’s a job to do and do it as best as I can.”
If picked to start in Sri Lanka, the bowling plan as he learned at the IPL remains the same.
“Your line and length is crucial there. Whichever way the ball was swinging, I was making sure to attack that ‘fourth’ stump and hitting the top of the stumps, make the batsman play, put him under pressure. It’s a cliché, but it’s not as easy to execute on the field, you have to keep repeating it.”
Those are critical lessons that have been reinforced for Ngidi, who describes sharing a dressing room with Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Dwayne Bravo and Harbhajan Singh as humbling and hugely informative. The overall IPL experience, the glitz and glamour, was something he took in his stride.
“It’s obviously very exciting, but I didn’t let it overwhelm me. When you get the opportunity you want to prove yourself, and I just made the most of it. The crowds are massive, but I feel lucky in that I am able to block that out, it doesn’t affect me. It was enjoyable.”
* Meanwhile, Rabada and Steyn are both expected to be fit for the Tour to Sri Lanka next month.
The national team’s manager, Mohammed Moosajee, said Rabada had started bowling this week and his rehabilitation was on target. Steyn has been bowling almost at top pace. He has one first class match scheduled for Hampshire and that match, said Moosajee, would act as a ‘fitness test’ to rubber-stamp his availability for Sri Lanka.
There was, however, worrying news for all-rounder Chris Morris, who will have to consult an orthopaedic specialist to determine the exact nature of his lower back problem, which has sidelined him for the last six weeks.
“He has nerve related symptoms and is the only one in doubt for the Sri Lankan tour,” said Moosajee.