Why was it that so many South Africans were so moved by Lungisani Ngidi’s stunning performance in his debut Test? Social media was almost choked with semi-hysterical messages of joy and congratulations, from every corner of our multi-cultural society.
It wasn’t merely the fact that he had taken 6-39 on debut. In fact he was the sixth South African to claim a five-for on debut since 1991 and it certainly wasn’t the most spectacular return, although it did result in a series victory against the top ranked team in the world, and there was the ‘revenge’ element, too.
Lance Klusener was smashed all over Eden Gardens in the first innings of his debut Test as Mohammad Azharuddin collected a century from 74 balls, including five successive fours off Klusener, before he returned with 8-64 to win the match in the second innings.
Charl Langeveldt took 5-46 at Newlands against England in 2005 and Vernon Philander’s debut against Australia was perhaps the most explosive of all with a return of 5-15 as Australia were dismissed for 47.
Marchant de Lange enjoyed figures of 7-81 against Sri Lanka at Kingsmead in the same season and then Kayle Abbott claimed a remarkable 7-29 against Pakistan at Centurion a couple of years later. All memorable, and all exhilarating. Somehow, however, Ngidi’s performance touched different buttons.
There was the ‘revenge’ thing following the Proteas’ humiliation on crumbling pitches in India two years earlier. So Ngidi hammering the return nails would make a difference. There was also the ‘fast new boy’ excitement. Just as there was with Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and even Andre Nel. Fast and furious, show them who we are. Just as Kagiso Rabada had done against England two years ago as a 20-year-old.
But there was more, and it was symbolic as much as it was practical. India were being systematically and clinically dismantled on the last day of the Test match, losing the series in the process, and the demolition was being carried out by two Black African fast bowlers. The reaction from the small crowd – a little over 1700 – was intense but was reflected realistically on social media. Widespread joy, jubilation – hysterical happiness in many places.
It wasn’t only about Ngidi, or the win, or the India ‘revenge’, it may also have been about the changing future.
Transformation is essential. It is still needed, and will be for many years to come. But when the two bowlers who are winning the series against India happen to be the best bowler in the world, and a new kid taking 6-39, and they both happen to be black, there is bound to be an extra level of celebration which points towards the time and age, eventually, when elite sport is Just that.
But equal opportunity remains the priority, and will do so, for many years to come. Give young Ngidis a chance, and South Africa will be hard to beat.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to get in touch.