It was 20 January, 2017 when Lungi Ngidi, touted to be a limited-overs prospect, was adjudged the Man of the Match for a superb spell of two wickets for 12 runs in his debut Twenty20 International (T20I) for South Africa against Sri Lanka at his home ground, Centurion.
Cut to 13 January, 2018. He made his Test debut against India, once again at Centurion. And five days later, he was once again adjudged Man of the Match, this time for his scintillating spell of six for 39 that helped South Africa to a 135-run victory over India and wrap up the series in the second Test itself.
Given India's history against debutant pacers, and the fact that second Test was at his home ground, the conditions looked perfect for Ngidi to deliver a memorable performance. He bowled his heart out in the first innings but was unfortunate to get only one wicket. He could have had Virat Kohli as his maiden Test wicket, but Decision Review System (DRS) detected an inside edge and Kohli went on to construct a fine ton.
However, a special performance was in store in the second innings as Ngidi picked 6/39 and decimated the Indian batting line-up to help his team seal the series.
But, Ngidi wouldn't have been here at all, considering he sustained a stress fracture that forced him to withdraw from South Africa 'A' tour of England last year.
It was a career-threatening injury for someone who had just put his first stride in international cricket. However, he came back strongly and reached the peak of his fitness and performance once again.
"That (the injury) was one of the biggest challenges I have had in my career, going from such a high to such a low in such a short space of time. It was tough for me because I thought I was doing all the right things but the results just weren't going my way. I got a lot of time to reflect and get to know myself as a person, and I got through it. I am a lot stronger than I thought I was. It helped me with a lot of confidence going forward,” Ngidi told ESPNcricinfo after making his Test debut a few days back.
The results of off-season work-outs — that resulting in him losing eight kilograms and building muscles — were visible against India as he hurried the batsmen with his lively pace and appreciable bounce. Despite the fact that this Centurion wicket had a lot less bounce than the norm, Ngidi hit the deck hard and extracted more bounce than others. And occasionally, he would bowl fuller deliveries in search of LBW or bowled.
KL Rahul was Ngidi 's first victim in the second innings when the Karnataka batsman played a horrible shot. And the real treat was when he got Kohli LBW with an inswinger. He pitched the ball a bit fuller and it came in with a slightly lesser bounce. Kohli was caught plumb, and with him, India's chances went out of the park.
He then got Hardik Pandya and Ravichandran Ashwin in consecutive overs with steep bounce and pace. And he followed that up with the wickets of Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah as India succumbed for 151 runs. Ngidi ended up with memorable figures of 6/38 on debut and that too in his home ground set up.
Ngidi’s spellbinding debut has already shown what he is capable of. He seems destined to achieve bigger things, and cricketing world would be eager to see him live up to that promise.
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