Lungi Ngidi admits the nerves were creeping in when he took the new ball, but he always felt like he belonged.
It was the stuff of dreams for Titans paceman Lungi Ngidi. A surprise call-up to the T20 squad to face Sri Lanka, the tall 20-year-old wasn’t just handed his debut in the first match in Centurion, but he was asked to take the new ball too, in front of thousands of excited spectators, on his home ground.
The surroundings might have been familiar for him, but nothing can prepare someone to handle the emotions of bowling your first ball in international cricket. His first over went for nine runs, which, in the match situation, wasn’t too bad. But his second over yielded two wickets for just three runs. That over effectively ended the contest, and his two-over stint earned him the Man of the Match award.
‘I haven’t had the chance to let it all sink in yet, but I’m starting to feel emotional about it all,’ Ngidi tells SACricketmag.com. ‘I’m overjoyed about my performance. It’s what I’ve been working really hard on.’
And working hard he has. From playing for the U19 side, to being named Player of the Tournament in the Africa T20 Cup, to starring in the Red Bull Campus Challenge for Tuks, Ngidi has gone through all the correct channels and has seized the opportunity at every chance. With the Titans this season, his raw pace has left some of the best batsmen in the world struggling. He took a five-wicket haul against the Dolphins in the Sunfoil Series, before claiming the wicket of Kevin Pietersen in his side’s successful T20 Challenge campaign.
Some might have argued that he was being fast-tracked too soon, but in South African domestic cricket at the moment, there’s arguably no one of his age more deserving of the call up.
‘The call up was a surprise,’ Ngidi admits. ‘I thought I would need to prove my worth for another season. But when you get thrown in the deep end you have to perform. Opportunities like this don’t come around too often, and I felt ready to take that chance.’
Ngidi was one of two 20-year-old debutants for the Proteas in their 19-run victory against the Sri Lankans on Friday night. Andile Phehlukwayo made his 20-over bow in national colours, alongside Mangaliso Mosehle, JJ Smuts and Theunis de Bruyn. All contributed towards the victory, in what was a rain-hampered 10-over bash.
The rain caused a few anxious individuals in the dressing room. ‘To be honest when we arrived the guys were ready to go,’ Ngidi says. ‘We were told that the weather would stay clear the whole evening. But then the rain came, and then we all started to get too relaxed. That’s when the nerves crept in. My mindset shifted from ready to relaxed, and that then made me anxious because I wasn’t sure if we were going to play.’
The Durban-born youngster reveals the relief he felt when he took his first wicket, but it was the second wicket that meant so much to him. ‘I felt overjoyed when I took that first wicket, but I got even more emotional when I took the second, because it was so significant to the outcome of the match.’
Ngidi’s first wicket saw former Titans teammate Mosehle take his first catch as an international wicketkeeper, after taking home the uncanny record as having the highest strike rate in the history of T20 cricket, slapping a six off his first ball before being run out. ‘Trust him to hold a stat like that!’ Ngidi laughs.
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images