When India’s tormentor Lungi Ngidi almost became a rugby player

Lungi Ngidi wrapped up South Africa’s series win over India with a six-wicket haul. He excelled in college in swimming, rugby and cricket and could have easily pursued any as a career.

cricket Updated: Jan 18, 2018 22:23 IST
Somshuvra Laha
Somshuvra Laha
Hindustan Times, Johannesburg
India vs South Africa,South Africa vs India,Lungi Ngidi
Lungi Ngidi made a brilliant debut for South Africa against India in the ongoing Test series.(REUTERS)

Boarders of Hilton College were filing in after their summer break on Wednesday when one of their seniors was making Indians jump like cats on a hot tin roof at Centurion. They stopped in front of television sets, not to move till Lungi Ngidi wrapped up South Africa’s series win with a six-wicket haul, giving them hope that they too can follow his footsteps from relative anonymity to stardom.

READ | Virat Kohli devastated after 1st cricket series loss as skipper, says ‘India not good enough’

“The guys were cheering him on TV. There was quite a special atmosphere at school today,” Sean Carlisle, Hilton’s first cricket team XI coach and a history teacher, said. “He’s humble, feet on the ground and we are extremely proud of the human being he has become,” said Carlisle about Ngidi who grew up about an hour and a half from Hilton in Kwazulu-Natal. “That Ngidi was elected head boy of his boarding house Newnham showed how popular he was among boys,” added Carlisle.

As a student, Ngidi was fascinated with history, said Carlisle. So much so that he took political science at Pretoria University. In cricket, Ngidi’s has been a fast-tracked case. He excelled in swimming, rugby and cricket and could have easily pursued any as a career. But cricket it was for Ngidi, who had joined Hilton — who has on roles current South Africa batting coach Dale Benkenstein as first team coach — on a full sports scholarship.

IN PICS | Debutant Lungi Ngidi bowls South Africa to series win over India

“Most of us knew he had the ability to do it but it happened a lot quicker than we had thought. It has been remarkable. When I was coaching the first team I had former Zimbabwe all-rounder Neil Johnson — coaching in England now — with me. Ngidi then came to us as a 13-14 year old. Already at that age he showed lots of talent, a natural athlete,” he said.

The real story behind Ngidi picking cricket over rugby had to do with his injury-prone body. “Even at school he was a big boy, and had a lot of injuries throughout his school career,” said Carlisle. “It got to a stage where we actually decided that there was too much risk of injury if he played rugby, so we thought it would be better if he focused on his cricket,” he said.

READ | Virat Kohli named Cricketer of the Year by ICC, Steve Smith wins top Test award

Choosing fast bowling over batting too came by happenstance. “He arrived at his first practice and wanted to be a batsman but did not have any cricket kit so he decided to try his hand at bowling instead,” said Carlisle. Now when Carlisle looks back, he can’t forget what makes Ngidi a smiling assassin to opponents. “That’s the first thing I recall about him. Whatever be the situation, he always had a smile on his face.”

First Published: Jan 18, 2018 20:46 IST