Ngidi is great, but does he have the goods to take on the Aussies?

And so another South African fast bowling star is born.

The arrival of Lungi Ngidi on the world stage following his brilliant Test debut against the visiting Indians has re-affirmed the country as the world’s premier breeding ground for the quick men.

The conveyer belt from which the likes of Mike Proctor, Vince van der Bijl, Shaun Pollock, Allan Donald, Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada have been plucked continues to churn out the goods, the latest being a 21-year-old collosus standing six-foot-five in his socks and proved in beating the defences of the 2017 ICC Cricketer of the Year, Virat Kohli.

Yet as exciting as Ngidi is, there is no guarantee that when the Proteas line up against the much-vaunted Australians in Durban on March 1 he will be in the starting XI.

While that might seem an unthinkable prospect to many, given the manner in which he blew away the world’s number 1 team, several factors should be borne in mind in respect of his selection, or the more likely scenario of his omission.
Firstly, South Africa are playing Australia, who recently demolished England 4-0 in The Ashes.

While they have enjoyed tremendous success against this opposition Down Under, their home record since readmission is nothing to write home about. Not once have they managed to best the Aussies on these shores, losing five Test series and sharing the spoils twice.

During this period, South Africa have boasted fast bowling luminaries Donald, Shaun Pollock, Ntini, Steyn and Vernon Philander, yet they still could not trump their greatest rivals.

Ngidi is big, strong and fast, but if you consider that the 2018 Australians include in their ranks Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazelwood, each of whom regularly registers speeds in excess of 150km/h, the likelihood of Ngidi being able to intimidate their top and middle order is minimal.

What is going to be required is street smarts, and that comes with experience. It will be argued that Steyn, Morkel and Philander have squared up against Australia before, and still come up short, but bear in mind Kagiso Rabada is now part of the quartet.

These four are now being talked about in the same breath as the formidable West Indies pace quartets of the 1980s. Philander, while being the slowest, is arguably also the deadliest in South African conditions, especially when complemeneted by Morkel’s steepling bounce, Rabada’s pace and Steyn’s freakish ability to swing the ball both ways.

Guile is not often a word associated with fast bowlers, but as a unit the Proteas speedsters have it in spades.

There are calls for Ngidi to be a direct replacement for Steyn, whose age undoubtebly is starting to work against him. In the past two seasons, he has broken down twice, resulting in prolonged periods away from the game.

However, the bruised heel his sustained in the first Test against India is expected to have healed completely by the time Steve Smith’s men arrive, and Proteas coach Ottis Gibson has already made it clear that a fully-fit Steyn will find himself on the team sheet.

It is often tempting to forsake older stars in favour of younger ones, and quite rightly, there is an enormous amount of buzz around Ngidi at the moment. With Rabada and Ngidi at the helm, South Africa’s fast bowling future is in excellent hands.

Yet it cannot be forgotten that Steyn has 419 Test wickets to his name, just two behind South Africa’s all-time record-holder Shaun Pollock. Dismissing the Phalaborwa Express as “past it” is folly.

The fact is that against an Australian outfit on the acscendency, you cannot do without a player of Steyn’s pedigree. He has done enough battle with the old enemy to know when to step up a gear when the chips are down – something Ngidi will learn in the years to come, but not within the space of a month.

Ngidi himself has also been prone to injury, despite his tender years. Not only was he forced to withdraw from the ODI series against Sri Lanka early last year, but a back injury also put paid to his South Africa A tour to England in June.
Fears that Steyn could break down mid-series can just as easily apply to him.

Of course it could well be that both Steyn and Ngidi feature in the final line-up. That would mean a five-pronged pace attack, a mouthwatering prospect in anyone’s books and one that would surely set tongues wagging in the international cricket community.

With two of the four Tests set down for St George’s Park and Newlands – traditionally slower surfaces (although Cape Town delivered something altogether different against India) – South Africa will probably play four quicks and a spinner at these venues.

The same combination would probably be selected for Kingsmead, although in the past this wicket has been known to have plenty of juice in it.

The Wanderers will be South Africa’s best opportunity to unleash the quintet. Matched against the Aussies’ bowling arsenal, it will be a shoot-out for the ages, regardless of the series scoreline at that stage.