How easy is it to renounce a life of comfort and start all over again from scratch?
Picture a situation.
You sleep only on satin sheets.
Your food is fashionably nutritious and your desserts and salads are something the working-class consider ‘out of reach.’
Your footwear isn’t anything less than suede. Nothing else would do. Your white crisp shirts are at best, fashionably out of reach for the rest.
Holidays aren’t vague trips to a beach or a mountainside resort, but expensive fanfare that consist of visits to Medieval European castles and fortresses untouched by anything one might call ordinary.
Your fragrance enters a party before you do and lingers on long after you’ve left. You don’t approach women; they come to you.
The choicest glass of chardonnay and plush Czech and Italian wines are what evenings are made of. The visit to the lavishly spread dinner table cannot be minus bespoke dinner jackets. Even running to keep fit happens on imported sophisticated treadmills.
The idea to walk inside a park isn’t really happening or to walk on the road isn’t you.
Your mornings are about organic Oriental tea. Your taste in music and art is very Parisian, even your speed machines aren’t the drives of the middle-class but sports cars that most spend a lifestyle chasing but fail to attain.
Then one day, you wake up and find the dream is over and reality is bitten. You don’t have any of that anymore.
Can life be crueler?
In the cricketing lexicon, the former was the dreamlike scenario for the Proteas fan that grew eternally used to exceptional bowling performances by two different generations. One belonged to the nineties and extended until the initial 2000s and the other stayed put in the 2000s.
Cricket for the fan was about enjoying the greatness of two distinct quartets: Daryl Cullinan, Jacques Kallis, Hansie Cronje, and Gary Kirsten and those that followed- Hashim Amla, AB De Villiers, JP Duminy, and Faf du Plessis.
Whether they put enough runs on the board was never a worry.
For in Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Brian McMillan, and Pat Symcox, and the next-gen in Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir– there was an unquestionable appetite for destruction.
Above anything, a very carnal-destruction to tore apart batting charts.
To seek victory when even the thought of one seemed elusive happened for real, not in dreams.
Remember India’s ill-fated tour to South Africa in 1996, the West Indian whitewash in 1998-99 or the Test wins with AB and Faf, Morkel and Rabada firing up India and Australia, respectively, in 2018?
Remember Steyn’s 5 for 3 in February 2010? Can you forget England’s Headingley rout in 2014 with Steyn playing destructor?
Was that all?
Well, the mighty- well-fed Proteas supporter even had the privilege of watching Mkayah Ntini and the lesser fiery but probing forces in Boje and Botha in the post-Donald, pre-Rabada era.
And frankly, there was never a period in the last two decades where the South African supporter used to chest-thumping celebrations had to resort to optimism.
For the quintessentially charismatic pace-cauldron experienced an influx of one mighty name after another as if there was any dearth of stars in the batting sphere.
Now where Dale Steyn is but a shadow of himself and without a central contract, with the famous trinity of Morkel, Tahir, and Philander already “former players”, there’s this vacuum.
Never before has the need for strong-willed “hard-as-nails” fast bowlers been more urgent.
In Keshav Maharaj- a cerebral competitor albeit with limited ODI exposure- and Kagiso Rabada- a match-winning thumping force, there’s a deserving break from the barren emptiness of imagining a powerless South African line-up.
But the retirements of greats isn’t the only problem confronting South Africa. The likes of Kyle Abbott, David Wiese have long been lost to Kolpak deals, a dreaded evil of sorts which has only exacerbated the problems for a side already in midst of vital transformation.
That this journey toward stability has been a process laden with thorns and been a rather prolonged one was evident since AB abdicated the captaincy with Faf taking over, circa mid-2016.
Furthermore, the big loss of Morkel, followed by Steyn’s (from red-ball cricket), and the Big Vern have plagued South Africa giving it far more than it can chew, with problems such as Amla and Duminy’s draught of runs, leading to their subsequent retirements, has only amplified the concerns.
Then there’s the loss of homegrown talent to regions expectedly blessed with better prospects has also rendered jolts as if the team had none.
Take Dane Piedt for instance, who, in midst of the Coronavirus breakdown, has opted for a future in North America.
Truly speaking, if South African cricket were to advertise a poster recruiting prospective bowlers to aid the current damp fortunes then it would read something like:
Wanted… Someone to steady the ship, navigate it through the turbulent seas it currently finds itself in, where reaching the banks of the ocean can bring as much relief as one can get in exploring the depths that lie in the heart of the ocean.
In these times, the emergence of someone like Lungi Ngidi is just the kind of fillip that serves massive respite from a state of sluggishness that had engulfed a true bastion of excellence that is South African cricket.
At just 24, Lungi Ngidi is an exciting but inexperienced talent. He’s already the fastest to 50 ODI wickets for any South African.
Insert thumbs up emoji.
That he emerged on the scene when he was just 21 was every bit spectacular as was his disruption of England’s tail in the First T20, at East London.
Did a wounded South Africa picture a 1-wicket win in the opening contest having been pushed to the back days earlier in an embarrassing series loss on home soil?
There’s little doubt that Ngidi is a brilliant prospect to switch open and remain glued to the TV.
The muscular and a tad-bit puffy figure presents the modern stroke makers a meaty challenge, more so because he can consistently hit the deck at 140-145 k/hr.
But is he the force you’d place your bet on? From the onset of Jan 2018 until Jan-end 2020, South Africa have played 21 Tests.
Lungi Ngidi has been part of only 5 of them, his last being at Ranchi during his team’s capitulation during the tour to India, 2019.
Does that say something about his fitness?
In an age where one’s susceptible to spend more time updating WhatsApp statuses and using the right filter for an Insta selfie, Lungi Ngidi finds himself pumping iron and going through the fitness drills.
But one suspects, he’s aware of an overwhelming challenge that stares him straight in the eye.
And might say, a unique possibility at the same time.
Should he, if he bowls in tandem with Rabada, become the supporting system to South Africa’s new machinery?
Say playing the Morkel to Steyn?
Or should Lungi Ngidi, whom the fans are quick to opine must cut down a bit, only to bowl much faster, present himself as the leading strike bowler?
Around Rabada, there’s a reason to feel safe and guarded.
At once, the two cut an imposing figure that can rattle on fast decks and at best, probe questions on flat turfs.
But in the latter, can he guide the equally exciting handy pace newcomers in Dwaine Pretorius– 7 wickets from 3 Tests, 29 wickets from 22 ODIs- and Anrich Nortje- 6 Tests, 19 wickets- as a henchman of a new hit squad?
To his credit, Ngidi has the backing of a situation that demands the youth take responsibility for reshaping the culture of South African cricket, a system infused with an in-built sense of camaraderie.
On top of that, he’s got countless guiding forces in Faf, de Kock, Elgar on the field and Kallis and Smith from the thinking box.
These are men who’d keenly play altruists in their bid to reposition the Rainbow Nation to the upper-end of the ICC rankings, a position that yearns for South Africa to return to the top.
You and I don’t want to see such a promising side play the midfielders. Do we?
Lungi Ngidi has already, through spells like his 7 for 90 at his debut Centurian Test, proven he can hold onto his own even against premier forces like India.
Who can forget Kohli, wrapped on the pads?
But can he prove himself to be a participant in South Africa’s sustained future where the once-feared powerhouses recapture imagination instead of remaining content as sentimental heroes of the sport is purely down to him and his capabilities.
That there’s not enough cricket against his name for one to point a finger should save Lungi Ngidi raw nerves. Yet, it must also challenge him to prove himself.
But should that mean the birthday boy should rest back and stretch arms in glee while the world keenly awaits someone to rekindle the Proteas fire?
That’s not very hard to guess, right?