JOHANNESBURG – South Africa's latest pace sensation Lungi Ngidi has always been fast – too fast for kids his age when he was starting out in the game and now fast and good enough to pick up 14 wickets in three Tests and 14 more in seven limited-overs internationals.
“Whenever I rocked up to practice, and we have to bowl in the nets, no one wanted to come to the nets when I was bowling,” Ngidi, still only 22, tells the ICC in his charming and anything-but-hostile manner during an interview.
“At the time, it didn’t click for me, but I started realising that I bowl a lot quicker than the other kids. So it just got very uncomfortable for them.
“I started practising with the first team then as well. And I realised that these guys are a lot older than me but I’m still bowling a lot quicker than them.
"The guys are a lot bigger than me as well. And I started seeing it when I started playing first-team cricket – I easily bowled 10 overs for about 20 runs but not taking any wickets; no one’s hitting the ball!
“So I was always the one who didn’t take wickets but the partner I was bowling with, he used to clean up all the time. So it started clicking that ‘oh, you know, the guys don’t want to face me but they want to challenge the other guy and then they get wickets’.
"It clicked in about Grade 9, and ever since, just tried bowling faster and faster.”
By 2016, he was playing first-class cricket for Northerns in South Africa, and when Dale Steyn dropped off with a heel injury during the first Test against India in early 2018, Ngidi made his Test debut.
A memorable one it was too, as he tore through the Indian batting line-up in the second innings of the match in Centurion to return 6/39.
“You wouldn’t expect something like that to happen on your debut,” he says with a smile. “First of all, you’re just trying to get through the day.
"But to be able to perform like that, it helped me realise what I am capable of doing if I put my mind to it. I couldn’t have asked for a better debut and I look back on it now and I still think it’s a dream. I’m still struggling to let it sink in.”
It’s a dream that took shape many years ago when growing up in Kwa-Zulu Natal, Ngidi saw the kids in the neighbourhood playing a game he knew nothing about.
“I used to see a few kids play with their dads on this field outside the house. Every weekend the kids would be out there with their dads playing cricket.
"I was always up early and I was watching, and I didn’t know what exactly was going on. I’d never seen this game. But one day I asked if I could play, and they let me. Ever since then I’ve fallen in love with the game,” he says.
The initiation to top-drawer cricket has been excellent. Ngidi’s emergence has coincided with Steyn struggling to regain – and sustain – full fitness and Morne Morkel retiring from international cricket.
Alongside Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander, Ngidi gives South Africa a high-worth pace attack.
“I’ve still got years ahead of me. The first thing that I’d like to do is make sure my career’s very long. At the moment, I just want to keep the ball rolling. I’ve got some good momentum behind me,” he says.
“Just having come on to the international scene as well, I’m still very energetic, very excited about everything that happens.
"I’m just looking to utilise that as best as I can. I’m very excited about what’s happening and, as a cricketer, that’s all I can really do, look forward to every opportunity I get and perform as best as I can.”
African News Agency (ANA)