Ngidi heights, and rising fast

Sunday Times


“KG!” Everybody knows who answers to those initials, including the fan who yelled them at the Wanderers last Sunday.

“KG! Can we take a selfie, please?”

The question was asked of the bowler who dismissed the entire Sri Lanka top four in the second T20 played in Johannesburg that day.

He was tall. He was quick. He was deadly. He was black.

Just one thing …

“I’m actually not Kagiso. But, ja, we can take a photo.”

Lungi Ngidi is getting used to being mistaken for that other tall, quick, deadly, black fast bowler who has rocketed into the public consciousness. 

“A lot of people compare me to him and some people actually get mixed up between me and him,” Ngidi said.

“It’s obviously lovely to be compared to him. He’s a great cricketer.

“It’s great to be even considered to be close to him in some sort of way.

“But I really do want to make a name for myself.”

That name is not Kagiso Rabada.

It is, instead, the name of a fast bowler who matched Imran Tahir for the most wickets taken and the best economy rate in the T20 series against the Lankans – and who had a better average and strike rate than anyone else.

It’s the name of a perfectly polite young man, 1.95 metres tall and two months shy of his 21st birthday, from Kloof whose parents are both domestic workers, whose mother “always reminds me to pray and to be grateful for everything that I have”, who rejoices in the second name of True-man, whose talent earned him scholarships to good schools, who is the first member of his family to study at university.

If the suits need a poster child for what happens when transformation delivers people deserving of opportunities to the highest level, they should take a selfie with Ngidi.

He knew he was a living, breathing, excelling example of shifts in thinking leading to different plans and better outcomes.

“There’s been a whole lot of changes lately with a lot of youngsters coming through,” Ngidi said. “It looks as if I was in the plans, so I’m happy with that.

“The changes have been great. It’s nice to move forward with them and it’s nice to be part of them.

“I see South African cricket as really moving in the right direction at the moment.”

Ten days ago, before he made his international debut against the Lankans, Ngidi hadn’t experienced any of that for himself. Just more than a year earlier he had yet to play a first-class match.

Is your seatbelt fastened, son?

“I’m taking it in my stride,” Ngidi said. “Some would say it’s a bit fast. It is happening very quickly, but I seem to be managing. So it’s not that bad.

“I haven’t had time to really soak it all in and actually think about it, but it’s a case of one day at a time and it seems to be going alright so far.”

This week Rob Walter, Ngidi’s former coach at the Titans, warned that “we must be very careful not to create too much expectation too quickly”.

Ngidi knew where that came from: “He always took care of me in that way; in terms of not letting things get too extreme too quickly.

“I think it’s a caring attitude from him but it’s also true – it can be overwhelming, and if it does get to that stage I’m sure there are people I can speak to. But so far I’m managing well.

“It’s a lot of fun, and that’s the main thing for me. I’m enjoying it a lot. The fun aspect plays a big role.

“I’m just doing what I’ve been doing in franchise cricket and it seems to be working.”

Not that he hadn’t noticed the difference between the domestic and international levels.

“The pace is a whole lot faster and the margin for error is a whole lot smaller, and that’s one thing you’ve got to adjust to,” Ngidi said.

“The players are more aggressive in terms of the shots they play. They really do back themselves, so you’ve also got to step up to their level.”

Ngidi has done that in his three T20s, which earned him a place in the squad for the one-day series against the Lankans that started at St George’s Park yesterday.

“It feels good to be rewarded if you do well,” Ngidi said. “I’ve been working hard for it and I’m very happy that I got called up. It’s another step and another opportunity to showcase what I can do.”

Ngidi spoke on Wednesday. Hours later he sustained a hip injury that ruled him out of the ODI series.

Sore though his hip is, the greater pain is surely that Bongi and Jerome Ngidi, who have yet to see their son let loose in a green and gold shirt, would have been at Kingsmead on Wednesday if he was picked to play in the second match of the rubber.

But, by now, Ngidi knows that the world is both a wonderful and a cruel place.

“The schools I went to were private schools,” he said. “So I saw a lot of kids who had a lot of stuff which I didn’t have.

“It’s human nature – you also want such things. But it wasn’t possible.

“Now my world has completely changed and everything’s available, pretty much.

“It is a bit overwhelming, but one of the most important things my parents told me was, ‘Keep your feet on the ground; remember where you come from’.”

Don’t worry, Mr and Mrs Ngidi: he does.


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