Newsmaker: Lungi’s living his destiny

2018-01-21 05:46
Lungi Ngidi of the Proteas takes 6 wicket for 39 runs during day 5 of the 2nd Sunfoil Test match between South Africa and India at SuperSport Park on January 17, 2018 in Pretoria, South Africa. Picture: Gallo Images

Lungi Ngidi of the Proteas takes 6 wicket for 39 runs during day 5 of the 2nd Sunfoil Test match between South Africa and India at SuperSport Park on January 17, 2018 in Pretoria, South Africa. Picture: Gallo Images

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Lungisani “Lungi” Ngidi is the living, breathing embodiment of the saying that what is meant for you in life will never miss you.

When he was seven, he was sitting on the embankment of the Kloof Junior Primary School cricket field watching a “Dads and Lads” game when someone asked him to join in, setting in motion the wheels of fate which would see him play for South Africa one day.

The son of a domestic worker and a member of the school’s maintenance staff at the time, Ngidi’s encouraging start that day got him the first of the bursaries which would see him through all three of his subsequent schools, the last of which was the prestigious private school Hilton College.

All that investment paid off spectacularly this week when Ngidi announced his arrival to test cricket with a man-of-the-match performance against India, thanks to a fast bowling spell for the ages which yielded the seventh-best figures by a Proteas player on debut (6/39).

It was a performance which brought the strapping but genial 21-year-old with a ready smile front and centre in the minds of South Africans.

The striking thing about the University of Pretoria Labour Law student’s first match as a test cricketer was how his nerves never looked like getting the best of him throughout the five days the match lasted.

Asked how he could be so calm, Ngidi gave an answer that probably explains why he has always punched above his age, performance-wise.

“I think everyone has a formula to deal with it,” he explained.

“Mine is to embrace challenges and not fear them. I ask myself what’s the worst that can happen – I could do badly and get dropped but I can work my way back again.

“But there are also amazing possibilities if you succeed, so I try to look at the positives.

"Yes the game was against the number one team in the world, but it was at my home ground (SuperSport Park in Centurion, the stadium of Ngidi’s domestic team, The Titans) so I actually had an advantage.”

In among the giddy excitement that swept cricket fans at the discovery of a brand new fast bowler who can bowl at speeds up to 150km/h, spare a thought for Ngidi’s parents, Bongi and Jerome, who ran the risk of spontaneously combusting with pride this week.

The two have shared as much of the limelight as their son this week, giving such insider snippets as the fact that his playmates called him Ntini because he was a fan of the former Proteas fast bowler.

They also told the Witness newspaper that Ngidi was an over-achiever in life as well, having bought them a house at the age of 19.

A sign of their son’s maturity lies in how he handled the tricky assignment of marrying being a domestic workers’ son and being at a posh school like Hilton.

“I felt it but I didn’t let it get to me,” he said last year.

“I used it as motivation because I used to look at the parents and think ‘one day I’ll be in a position to send my kids to a school like this’.

"Also, my parents might be domestic workers but we all had the same opportunities at the same school.

“So I asked myself what was stopping me from achieving whatever I want in life?”

Asked if being at Hilton helped fast track him to the Proteas like teammate and fellow fast bowler Kagiso Rabada, whose alma mater is St Stithians College in Johannesburg, Ngidi’s answer suggested the onus will always be on individual to succeed.

“I can understand how people can say that, but the important thing is the journey. Kloof was a government school but I was still able to do well. But Hilton did help fast track me because of their systems and facilities.”

Ngidi’s journey already includes two stress fractures of the back which cost him a place in the SA Under-19 team and the South Africa A side which toured England in June last year.

The latter injury was pivotal to where he is now because it made him reassess his career along with his coach at the Titans, former Proteas wicketkeeper Mark Boucher.

Boucher basically told Ngidi that at 103kg he was overweight and wouldn’t succeed unless he lost weight.

“He made me very conscious of the fact that I could play for South Africa if I wanted to, I just had a lot of things to do like lose weight,” says Ngidi, who now weighs 95kg.

“He’s very honest – if you’re fat to him you’re fat.

“It can come across as harsh to some but for me it was more guidance than anything else.”

The potential of Ngidi and Rabada – who combined to take nine of the 10 Indian wickets to fall in the visitors’ second innings – bowling as the Proteas’ opening partnership for years to come (Rabada is still only 22) has captured the imagination.

Ngidi told a story about the first time they played against each other for their schools which probably outlines what they are like as people and as competitors: “I still remind him that he got me out and I got him out but he didn’t walk.

"He still maintains that he hit his pad and that the ball didn’t touch his bat.

“But I’m really happy to be bowling with him.”

Read more on:    proteas

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