Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, Proteas paceman LUNGI NGIDI talks about his potentially sooner-than-expected injury return, the influence Ottis Gibson has had on him and desire to emulate Dale Steyn.
Sport24 asked: How have you handled your injury-enforced layoff?
Lungi Ngidi: I have been alright and am taking it one day at a time. It’s sport and I know that injuries happen, and there is nothing I can do about it. (The knee injury, which was sustained in the one-off T20I against Australia towards the end of last year, has seen Ngidi miss out on the inaugural Mzansi Super League and the ongoing series against Pakistan). In terms of how I picked up the injury, I was playing on a wet field in Australia, I dived and my knee got stuck in the ground. It wasn’t like I was unfit or anything. It happened in the moment and there was nothing I could do about it. The initial prognosis was that I would be out of action for 12 weeks, but it could be shorter than that before you see me on the field of play again. I seem to be ahead of schedule, which is pretty good news. I’m not going to make any promises as far as returning to the field sooner than expected is concerned, but there is a possibility it could happen. I’m no longer wearing a knee brace and am back to running and bowling again off a short run-up. I’m very relaxed about my recovery and the fact that I have remained part of the national squad during this period has been good for my mindset. I’m training with the Proteas trainers and getting treatment and, even though I’m not playing, I don’t feel out of place in the team environment. It’s been good seeing the guys pretty much every day over this time.
Sport24 asked: Were you upset to miss the Mzansi Super League?
Lungi Ngidi: I was very excited for the inaugural Mzansi Super League and it was disappointing to miss out on the event through injury. (Ngidi had been signed by the Tshwane Spartans). For the first high-profile T20 tournament that we hosted as a country, I think we did very well and I feel it can only grow from here because now we know where to improve and what to change. I thought it went off very nicely and the numbers speak for themselves. The millions of viewers who watched is very promising and I know there will definitely be even more next year. In time, it can definitely rival the IPL, which I have been a part of. Having played in and won the IPL, tournaments like that are really mind-blowing and I definitely believe that South Africa has the potential to get there one day as well.
Sport24 asked: Your take on Duanne Olivier’s impressive form?
Lungi Ngidi: Duanne is a great bowler and he did very well over the Test series (he took 24 wickets) and is now also performing in the ODI series. I am very happy for him. He has been afforded the opportunity and he has taken it with both hands. That is what we all strive to do as international bowlers. As a bowling unit, we hunt as a pack and, if we can add another guy that fires into that pack, it can only make our bowling line-up even stronger. Competition for places is also always good because you don’t want to become complacent. I’m very happy that Duanne has done well because that is going to push me to do even better and work even harder when I get back from my injury-layoff. In terms of my Test bowling stats so far, I’m very happy with those numbers at the moment and if I can keep my average around 19/20 and that strike-rate going, I feel I’m on the right path. (Ngidi has taken 15 wickets in four Tests at an average of 19.53 and strike-rate of 41.2). I just need to keep taking wickets and make sure I’m perfecting my role as a strike bowler for South Africa. As far as an all-seam Proteas attack is concerned, in South Africa it definitely works. However, when making team selections you have to assess the conditions, look at the pitch and decide from there.
Sport24 asked: Is Ottis Gibson a source of inspiration to you?
Lungi Ngidi: He is. As a former fast bowler, Ottis has really simplified the art of fast bowling for me and I don’t overthink things as much as I used to. Ottis doesn’t overcomplicate things from a technical point of view. In terms of his coaching philosophy, it’s pretty much about running in and delivering the ball as quickly as you can. With him being from the Caribbean, he is more relaxed in nature off-field, but he always prided himself on being an aggressive fast bowler on-field (Gibson played for the West Indies from 1995 to 1999) and that is exactly what he wants to see from us quicks. Channelling an aggressive streak on the field is something I have actually had to work at. I’m not an aggressive guy by nature and am very calm. Ottis has basically told me I need to have that aggressive edge as a fast bowler and need to find something that triggers it. I’m still working on it, but it (the aggressive part) is coming along... In terms of an earlier mentor, Pierre de Bruyn played a vital role in my career. His influence has proved one of the pinnacle moments and I am eternally grateful to him. He convinced me to make the move from KwaZulu-Natal to Pretoria in order to pursue my cricket and studies. He told me he believed I had the potential to play for South Africa if I listened and worked hard. I feel like I’m a better listener (than talker) and that is one thing I have always prided myself on. I listened to all the information I was given and did what I was told to do. You play professional sport for a limited amount of time, so you have to learn as quickly as possible to ensure that you extend your career for as long as possible. Since I was young, my key focus points have been to be a good listener and quick learner. (Ngidi joined Hilton on a scholarship from Highbury Preparatory, where he had also been awarded a scholarship over his primary school years).
Sport24 asked: What have you learned from veteran Dale Steyn?
Lungi Ngidi: What I most admire about Dale is how consistent he has been over the years. He has endured a number of injuries as a fast bowler, but he has been able to come back even stronger from those setbacks. I’m looking up to that as a young player having now had a few injuries. Dale has underlined that if you work hard and do your rehab, it’s possible to come back and be an even better cricketer. He is a fantastic bowler and I have learned a lot from him in a short space of time. Dale has shown dedication and determination and I am very happy for him that he became South Africa’s leading Test wicket-taker of all time during the three-Test series against Pakistan. (Steyn now has 433 Test scalps under his belt and has moved into the top 10 on the all-time Test wicket-takers list).
Sport24 asked: Are the Proteas inching closer to their ideal ODI side?
Lungi Ngidi: I think the ongoing ODI series against Pakistan (which is currently tied at one-all) will be the decider in terms of World Cup places. After the series, the selection panel will probably narrow the squad down and, by the time of the Sri Lanka series, the selectors will know who they want to go with. I think we are getting very close to picking our 15-man squad that will head to the World Cup. (South Africa begin their Cricket World Cup campaign against hosts England on 30 May at the Oval).