JOHANNESBURG – A lot of hard work in the gym, an improvement in his skill and a new toy to play with in the form of a different ball, made for a very happy first day for Lungi Ngidi on Thursday.

The 25 year old returned figures of 5/19 as the West Indies, who chose to bat after their skipper Kraigg Brathwaite won the toss, were bowled out for 97 in the 41st over. At stumps, South Africa, thanks to 60 from opener Aiden Markam, reached 128/4, a lead of 31 runs.

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Ngidi however was the star of the opening salvos in South Africa’s first Test series in the Caribbean in more than a decade. He was aggressively accurate in his opening spell alongside Kagiso Rabada, which although wicketless, immediately had the West Indies under pressure.

“My role is very clear, I have to keep one end quiet. We do have some really quick bowlers, and batsmen struggle against them, so for me to give (the batsmen) nothing was part of the plan,” he explained.

He used the phrase ‘hunt as a pack’ later which is what it must have felt like for the West Indies as following Ngidi and Rabada, Anrich Nortje ripped out the top order, leaving the hosts on 48/4 at lunch.

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After the interval, Ngidi dominated proceedings. He switched ends, got the wind at his back and had the Duke ball – manufactured in England and with a more pronounced seam – talking. “I enjoy the Duke ball. It stays harder and it does seem to move around a lot more.”

In South African, the Australian produced Kookaburra is normally used, but Ngidi said that when the South Africans were offered the ball English ball, being used in the West Indies, to practice with before they left for the Caribbean, the differences were stark. Most importantly they were to the bowlers’ liking.

“The Kookaburra ball tends to get a bit soft and you’re pretty much left looking for reverse swing. The SG ball (used in India) gets scuffed up very quickly, and is very hard to maintain,” Ngidi commented.

“It took us a long time to learn to control it…once you get the wrist position right and hone in on your area you can be very successful with this ball. Having bowled with it now, I hope to bowl with it for many more years.”

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Besides the ball, Ngidi, who made his debut three years ago, but is playing in just his ninth Test, cited renewed emphasis on fitness and upskilling himself as being hugely beneficial. “At one stage my selection was doubtful for the Test side,” he said. He sunk to his knees after claiming the final wicket of Jason Holder, an emotional response to achieving the landmark that illustrated his joy at seeing the rewards of the hard work done out of the public eye, paying off. “I had to work very hard in the gym on fitness. Most importantly was the skill side of things; swinging the ball away from the right hand batsman is very useful for me. I was a bit emotional at the end there.”

The West Indies debutant, Jayden Seales also seemed to enjoy the Duke ball, bowling two superb spells to keep the West Indies in touch by claiming 3/34, impressing Ngidi in the process. “He’s got a really nice clean action, and a very good wrist position,” Ngidi said of the 19 year old, who dismissed Markram and the Proteas’s two debutants, Keegan Petersen and Kyle Verreynne.

@Shockerhess

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