Lungi Ngidi is not just a fitter bowler these days, but a more skilful and canny one as well, and he says he will go into the new season with confidence based on how he ended the 2019/20 campaign.
Having burst on to the scene in 2017, Ngidi has endured some frustrating injuries over the last couple of years. He has played just two Tests in the last two years and was able to play only four World Cup matches last year before breaking down again.
But the 24-year-old came storming back in limited-overs cricket this year, taking 12 wickets in four ODIs and 13 wickets in six T20 Internationals, winning both the 50-over and 20-over Cricketer of the Year honours at the CSA Awards at the weekend.
“I put a lot of hard work in and I felt I had a point to prove,” Ngidi said on Monday.
“In ODI cricket I really backed myself and in white-ball cricket I was used as an impact player, trying to take wickets or defend runs, just be versatile and able to bowl in any situation. That has given me a lot of confidence.
“I know some guys are quicker than me, so I look to produce other skills at certain stages of the game, but I was very disappointed not to play more Test cricket and I definitely want to get back into that team.
“I believe I’ve improved my skills and the mental side of the game. I’m always striving to do well in all three formats, so doing well in Test cricket again is definitely a personal goal of mine. You have to be much more patient in Test cricket though.”
While the towering, well-built Durbanite has always been an impressive physical specimen, there have been times when Ngidi has not exactly been a finely-honed athlete, which has also made him more injury-prone and more of a risk for five-day cricket.
He spent much of the second half of 2019 getting into peak physical shape, however, and is certain that his conditioning will now stay at that level, with the enforced Covid-19 break helping him to solidify that work over the last three months.
“I just need to continue the work we started last year. It’s about being consistent in training and eating healthily. It’s nothing extraordinary,” he said.
“Going forward, I feel like I’m now in a better position to do well in Test cricket. I feel now that with the conditioning block I’ve done, injury is something that’s now right at the back of the mind. It’s no longer a big deal.
“If I do happen to get injured again then so be it. I’ll just have to come back again.”
In the meantime, Ngidi admits that it has been difficult to get his head around some of the protocols required for the return to training.
“It’s been different and difficult,” he said.
“You have to book sessions, train in small groups of no more than five and the bowlers have their own net and balls, gyms have to be sanitized before and after use.
“It feels weird as a team sport to be doing everything by yourself. We’re being tested regularly, temperatures taken, hand sanitizers everywhere and we have to fill out forms. It’s a whole process before you even bowl a ball, but very necessary.”