Lungi Ngidi: “Racism is a factor in South Africa that must be tackled” | South Africa cricket team

LUngi Ngidi was South Africa’s Cricketer of the Year and Man of the Match on his Test match and T20 debut, as well as a two-time Indian Premier League winner, but on a night out sunny in Taunton, it takes me back to a time before he was even born. “They shared these stories with me when I was still very young,” Ngidi says, reliving some of the pain her parents endured while living under apartheid.

“My dad was a gas station attendant and a white customer wouldn’t even put the money in his hand. He just threw it on the ground.

“I don’t think I will ever lose this story. It was so degrading. For my father to continue in life as if everything was fine, it took a lot of courage but that’s how they raised me. The stories they shared were eye-opening and painful to hear, because those scars never really heal.

Ngidi and his South African teammates have embarked on a tour that will run through September and he will soon turn his attention to the opportunities he and his fellow fast bowlers see as they prepare to face blustering aggression. that Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes injected into the English test. crew.

But before even considering the limited formats, which begin with the first ODI at Chester-le-Street on Tuesday, it is important to understand Ngidi’s past as well as the seismic way in which he helped South African cricket heal its racial wounds in 2020. .

Calmly and thoughtfully, Ngidi answered a question at a press conference two years ago this month. George Floyd had been murdered in Minneapolis six weeks earlier when a white police officer pressed a knee to his neck and slowly choked him to death. Ngidi was asked if he and his teammates would show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

“It’s definitely something that I believe we’ll tackle as a team,” he said. “And if it’s not, that’s obviously something I would raise. It’s something we need to take seriously, as the rest of the world does. We have to take a stand. As a nation, we also have a very difficult history in terms of racial discrimination. »

Ngidi had spoken honestly, rather than defiantly, but the backlash from some old white South African cricketers was searing. Pat Symcox, Boeta Dippenaar, Brian McMillan and Rudi Steyn have either derided Black Lives Matter as a Marxist conspiracy or accused Ngidi of speaking “nonsense”. He was attacked online and told to pledge allegiance only to white farmers.

South African teammates congratulate Lungi Ngidi for taking a wicket in the fifth T20 against India last month. Photograph: Aijaz Rahi/AP

“I was very surprised,” said the 26-year-old, “because I didn’t step on anyone’s toes. I didn’t attack anyone. But I understand the history of our country and racism is a factor in South Africa that needs to be addressed. I remembered those stories my parents told me and I would hate for my friends or any of my future family members to go through the same thing.

Another group of 30 former international cricketers and five coaches, all of color, threw their support behind 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 hearings on racial discrimination. These former international cricketers gave heartbreaking accounts of the racism they encountered while playing for South Africa. “Having these uncomfortable conversations is the only way to move forward,” says Ngidi. “Sweeping stuff under the rug never helps anyone.”

Last October, the issues raised by Ngidi resurfaced when Quinton de Kock, one of his most famous team-mates, opted out of a Twenty20 World Cup game rather than take a knee before South Africa does not face the West Indies.

Was Ngidi disappointed with De Kock’s decision? “Everyone in the team has their own personal reasons and so I have nothing against anyone,” he replies diplomatically. “I didn’t feel anything because the guys who made that decision gave 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 continue in this direction, I see a better South Africa for all of us.

Ngidi is neither vitriolic nor incendiary. Instead, he contrasts the hardships his parents faced with his own good fortune. “I come from very humble beginnings as we were in a one room house in the townships when I was very little. Then luckily my dad got a job as a caretaker at a school and then my mom got a job in the same school as a servant. We stayed in the school premises.

“An anonymous bursar then suggested that I go to a [mainly white] elementary school nearby. They paid for all my tuition and from there I was scouted by one of Highbury’s coaches [a prep school]. He offered me a scholarship and that led me to finally go to Hilton [one of white South Africa’s most privileged schools].

“I looked for the person who helped me at the very beginning but he never revealed himself. They did it with heart and I was able to go this far playing for my country. I don’t think it would have been possible without this person.

Lungi Ngidi, in action against India in January, has 61 wickets from his 35 ODI matches at an average of 26.13.
Lungi Ngidi, pictured in action against India in January, has 61 wickets from his 35 ODI matches at an average of 26.13. Photo: Halden Krog/AP

Ngidi points out: “My parents grew up at a time when racism was rampant but apartheid was over when I was born. They wanted me to make the most of this new beginning and they raised me to never judge a book by its cover, and I live by that today. Until someone shows me that [racist] side of themselves, I’ll never assume that’s what they are.

He 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 murdered increased by 70. .5%. “I’m embarrassed to say this,” says Ngidi, “but I didn’t know the statistics on gender-based violence. It wasn’t until I was in lockdown that I watched more TV and these stats came out.

“It’s so wrong that I felt compelled to do something about it. We are setting up a foundation with the end goal of helping women and children in South Africa and fighting violence It’s still early in the process because I’m on the road a lot.

Ngidi returned to the T20 squad during South Africa’s recent short tour of India and he believes he can secure his place as an opener in all three formats against England. “My confidence is high, the pace is good and I can’t wait to play here. I really enjoy English crowds and there are always good jokes, so I’m excited.

He was a key member of the Chennai Super Kings team which under the management of MS Dhoni won the IPL in 2018 and 2021. me. The IPL also taught me how to handle a large crowd. I had never played in front of 60,000 people and it was a bit overwhelming at first. But once you’re there, it’s child’s play.

Lungi Ndidi says of English conditions:
Lungi Ndidi says of English conditions: “I saw a bit of swing and I’m really happy with that – even though it looks like they’re setting up the wickets for the batsmen.” Photography: Jim Wileman/The Guardian

Ngidi won South African T20 and ODI Player of the Year in 2020 but, like all cricketers, he has been subject to vagaries of form and selection. After losing his place in the South African attack, he has also not played for his new IPL team, Delhi Capitals, this year. “When I talk to Kagiso Rabada [his fellow fast bowler], if I’m a little depressed, he’ll remind me, “You’re an IPL winner, twice, and you’ve won the man of the match award.” Then why are you sitting here denouncing yourself?

“Even this year in Delhi, Rishabh Pant has been so good. He’s young but he already has so much influence in the game and being able to ball him into the net and pass ideas to him helps you to grow as a cricketer.

This is Ngidi’s first proper tour of England and he already finds the terms attractive. “I saw a bit of swing and I’m really happy with that – even though it looks like they’re setting up the wickets for the batsmen.”

Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root led the extraordinary run for England to win all four Tests they contested under the new management team of McCullum as coach and Stokes as captain. “We followed that,” Ngidi says wryly, “and now they like to put pressure on the opposition. That’s good, that’s their game plan, but playing such attacking cricket also gives us real opportunities.

Ngidi and the South African bowlers don’t seem intimidated by the baton heroism of Bairstow and England’s ultra-aggressive batsmen. He smiles confidently and it’s a reminder that he took six for 39 in a decisive second set on his Test debut against India in 2018. It also made him think, then dismiss Virat Kohli in great shape.

The Spin: Sign up and receive our weekly cricket email.

“If you watched their last game [when England successfully chased a record target of 378 in the final innings] Indian bowlers created opportunities. But catches have gone down and it will always cost you in international cricket. If those opportunities had been taken, you would be looking at a different game. There are ups and downs in every game plan. We’ll see how theirs stack up against us.

South Africa’s immediate focus is on limited overs cricket but, at the same time, “Test play is alive and well. True cricket fans always show how much they love Test matches. The stadiums are going to be full and the testing is going to be really exciting on this tour.

As always with Ngidi, a larger perspective frames his perspective. He only needs a few modules to complete his degree in industrial sociology and, when asked about his future, Ngidi immediately includes other people. “I asked to participate in programs to help cricketers come to South Africa. I’ve seen players who weren’t picked for their age group go down. They are often amazing cricketers, but they lose motivation.

“I would like to help provide opportunities for those guys who aren’t there yet or haven’t had the same privileges. We need to think about them and expand the cricket pool.

Comments are closed.