“Hearing them speak about me as being part of their plans is a big confidence booster,” says Lungi Ngidi. Photo: Richard Wainwright/EPA

JOHANNESBURG – Lungi Ngidi drew confidence from Faf du Plessis and Ottis Gibson emphasising his importance to the Proteas during the three months he spent in rehabilitation following a knee injury.

While many may frown at how often Ngidi expressed his frustration with watching others take his place in the Proteas line-up, it’s worth remembering that the 22-year-old has had a career where injuries have halted his progress at various inopportune times.

The latest knee injury was the second significant period he was unable to play.

In 2017, he was out for four months with a stress fracture, which occurred just a few weeks after his initial forays into the international arena in the T20 format had been halted by a side strain.

You couldn’t blame him for feeling down in the dumps after returning from Australia, where he had injured his left knee while fielding in a one-off T20 international.

But he was never far from the Proteas coach and captain’s thoughts.

“Hearing them speak about me as being part of their plans is a big confidence booster. I feel like I want to put in great performances, so that I leave them with no doubt (about a recall to the national side),” Ngidi said on Sunday after his first competitive outing in three months for the Titans against the Knights in the One-Day Cup.

It was a successful return, in which he picked up two wickets in nine overs, bowling with reasonable pace and importantly showing no ill-effects of the injury to a very important part of a fast bowler’s body.

“There were a few overs where I felt I was bringing the ball through quite quickly. Within the first spell, the rhythm was a bit off and the pace wasn’t where I’d expect it to be, and you can also see by the lines I was bowling. But at the end, I felt I was bowling decently,” Ngidi said.

Ngidi has spent the past few weeks travelling around South Africa with the national one-day international team, having his fitness carefully assessed by the management. The message from Du Plessis and Gibson was clear.

“The main thing from them was getting game time, bowling as much as I could and being on the field, and getting the legs used to 50-over cricket again,” said Ngidi.

While Ngidi is crucial to the Proteas’ World Cup strategy, with Gibson and Du Plessis wishing to employ a plan based around four wicket-taking bowlers – three quicks, Ngidi, Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada, along with Imran Tahir – he is trying to remain as relaxed as possible as he works his way back to full match fitness.

“I enjoy bowling, playing cricket, a World Cup is something I’d love to play in, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.

“I’d like to have as long a career as possible, and if this injury that I had, had prevented me from going to the World Cup, I would have had to deal with that.

“I’m back playing now, bowling again, so I’m not too stressed about many things at the moment. I’m just happy to be on the field,” Ngidi said.

While the Proteas tackle Sri Lanka in two Tests in Durban and Port Elizabeth over the next couple of weeks, Ngidi will be getting in game time with the Titans as they go in search of the One-Day Cup trophy in what has been a disappointing season for a franchise that had grown accustomed to success recently.

Ngidi’s return to the competitive arena will continue on Sunday, when the Titans face the Dolphins at Centurion.

@shockerhess


The Star

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