Lungi Ngidi was South Africa’s cricketer of the year, and man of the match in his Test and T20 matches, as well as winning the Indian Premier League twice, but a sunny evening in Taunton takes me back to a time before he was born “They shared these stories with me when I was still very young,” Ngidi says as he relives some of the pain his parents experienced under apartheid.
“My father was a gas station attendant and a white customer wouldn’t even put money in his hands. He just threw it on the ground.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get over that story. It was so bad. It took a lot of courage for my dad to go on with his life like everything was fine but that’s how they raised me. The stories they shared with hearing their eyes open and painful, because those wounds never really close.”
Ngidi and his fellow South Africans embark on a tour that will last September and he will soon focus on the opportunities he and his fellow speedsters find as they prepare to face the onslaught. be furious that Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes have been injected in the England Test. group
But before we even consider the limited-overs formats, which begin with the first ODI at Chester-le-Street on Tuesday, it’s important to look at Ngidi’s past and the seismic way he helped shape 2020. South Africa’s critical need to address its racial wounds is to understand. .
Calmly and thoughtfully, Ngidi answered a question at a press conference two years ago this month. George Floyd was killed six weeks ago in Minneapolis, when a white police officer kneeled on his neck and slowly suffocated him. Ngidi was asked if he and his friends would show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It’s definitely something I believe we will address as a team,” he said. “And if we don’t, that’s obviously something I’m going to bring up. It’s something we need to take seriously, just like the rest of the world. We need to take a stand. We have a history as a nation of racial discrimination. It was very difficult.”
Ngidi had spoken honestly, not provocatively, but the reaction of some old white South Africans was sharp. Pat Symcox, Boeta Dippenaar, Brian McMillan and Rudi Steyn either called Black Lives Matter a Marxist conspiracy or accused Ngidi of speaking “nonsense”. He was attacked online and told to pledge allegiance only to white farmers.
The 26-year-old aunt says: “I was very surprised, because I did not step on anyone’s feet. I did not attack anyone. But I understand the history of our country and racism within South Africa is a factor that needs to be addressed. I remembered the stories my parents told me and I would hate for my friends or any of my future family to go through the same thing.”
A diverse group of 30 former international cricket players and five coaches, all of them colored, came out in support of Ngidi. Prominent South African cricketers such as Makhaya Ntini, Vernon Philander, Ashwell Prince, Paul Adams, JP Duminy and Herschelle Gibbs issued a statement praising Ngidi and challenging his white critics.
A year later, Cricket South Africa launched its social justice sessions amid racial discrimination. These former international cricketers gave harrowing accounts of the racism they faced while playing for South Africa. “Having these uncomfortable conversations is the only way forward,” says Ngidi. “Sweeping things under the rug never helps anyone.”
Last October, the issues raised by Ngidi resurfaced when Quinton de Kock, one of his most famous teammates, chose to withdraw from a Twenty20 World Cup game rather than take a knee in front of South Africa. face the West Indies.
Was Ngidi upset by De Kock’s decision? “Everyone in the team has their own personal reasons and that’s why I don’t hold anything against anyone,” he replies diplomatically. “I didn’t feel anything because the people who made that decision told us their reasons. Having the courage and confidence to ask for the subject to be explained to you is an important part of the learning process. If we move in that direction, I see a better South Africa for all of us.”
Ngidi is neither vitriolic nor inflammatory. Instead, he contrasts the hardship his parents faced with his own good fortune. “I come from very humble beginnings where we lived in a one-room house in the towns when I was very young. Then, fortunately, my father got a job as a caretaker at a school and then my mother started working as a housekeeper at the same school. worked. We stayed at the school place.
“At that time, an unknown scholarship gave me the opportunity to go to [mainly white] the primary school that was nearby. They paid all my school fees and from there I was spotted by one of the coaches from Highbury [a prep school]. He offered me a scholarship and that led to me eventually going to the Hilton [one of white South Africa’s most privileged schools].
“I looked for someone who helped me in the beginning but they never revealed themselves. They did it from the heart and I was able to play this far for my country. I don’t think it would have been possible without that person.”
Ngidi emphasizes: “My parents grew up in an era of increasing apartheid but apartheid ended when I was born. They wanted me to make the most of that new beginning and they raised me to never Don’t judge a book by its cover, and I live by that until someone shows it to me [racist] for my part, I will never guess who they are.”
It is also involved in the fight against gender-based violence in South Africa, where in the first three months of this year, nearly 11,000 rapes were reported, while the number of women killed increased by 70.5 percent. . Ngidi says: “I’m ashamed to say this, but I was oblivious to the statistics of gender-based violence. It was only when I was in lockdown that I would watch more TV and these statistics came out.
“It’s so wrong that I felt compelled to do something about it. We’re building a foundation with the ultimate goal of helping women and children in South Africa and fighting gender-based violence. It’s still early in the process because that I am very much on the way.”
Ngidi returned to the T20 squad during the recent short tour of South Africa in India and he believes he can secure his place as an opening batsman in all three formats against England. “My confidence is high, the rhythm is good and I’m just looking forward to playing here. I really enjoy English crowds and there are always good words so I’m happy.”
He was a key member of the Chennai Super Kings team that, under MS Dhoni’s leadership, won the IPL in 2018 and 2021. me IPL also taught me how to carry a large crowd. I had never played in front of 60,000 people and it was a bit overwhelming at first. But when you go it’s the wind in the air.”
Ngidi won South Africa’s T20 and ODI player of the year in 2020, but, like all cricketers, he has experienced fluctuations in form and selection. After he lost his place in the South African attack, he did not play for his new IPL team Delhi Capitals this year. “When I talk to Kagiso Rabada [his fellow fast bowler], if I’m a little down, he’ll remind me: ‘You’re a two-time IPL winner, and you’ve won man of the match awards. So why are you sitting here and humiliating yourself?’
“Even this year, in Delhi, Rishabh Pant has been very good. He is young but he already has a huge influence in the game and to be able to sit with him in the nets and run his thoughts in front of him, you helps you grow as a player.”
This is Ngidi’s first proper tour of England and he is already finding the conditions interesting. “I’ve seen a bit of swing and I’m really happy with that – although it seems like they’re preparing shots for the benefit of the batsmen.”
Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root led an extraordinary run for England to win all four Tests they played under the new leadership of McCullum as coach and Stokes as captain. “We’re following it, and they like to put the opposition under pressure now. Well, that’s their game plan, but playing this kind of attacking cricket also gives us real opportunities,” says Ngidi wryly.
Ngidi and South Africa’s batsmen are not afraid of Bairstow’s ferocious heroics and England’s ultra-aggressive batsmen. He smiles confidently and it’s a reminder that he took six for 39 in his Test debut against India in 2018 in a second series decider. This also led him to consider and then dismiss Virat Kohli in the premier format.
“If you watched their last game [when England successfully chased a record target of 378 in the final innings] Indian bowlers created opportunities. But catchers fell short and that will always cost you in international cricket. If those opportunities are closed you will be looking for a different game. Every game plan has its ups and downs. We will see how their attitude will be against us.”
South Africa’s immediate focus is on limited cricket but, at the same time, “the Test game is alive and well. True cricket fans are still showing how much they love Test matches. The stadiums will be full and the Tests will be in be really interesting this time.”
As always with Ngidi, a broader perspective covers his perspective. He is just a few modules short of completing his degree in industrial sociology and, when asked about his future, Ngidi immediately includes other people. “I asked to be part of the programs to help the recruits coming through in South Africa. I saw the players who were not selected for their age group teams get away. They are usually incredible recruits but they lose motivation.
“I want to provide opportunities for those guys who are not there yet or haven’t had the same privileges. We need to think about them and expand the cricket pool.”