South Africa's team of "good cricketers without superstars" has to band together one final time to deny India the chance to make history, and it's not going to be easy. That's Lungi Ngidi
's assessment of a series that will come down to a couple of sessions on the penultimate day of the third Test and has made for gripping viewing throughout.
"We are not going in there with a team of superstars," Ngidi said. "We've got good cricketers and good cricketing brains, and it's always a team effort. There are going to be moments where someone is going to have to put up their hand. If someone is not taking wickets, you make sure you keep the runs down, and if it's your day, you make sure you cash in."
Ngidi was referring to a question about his own performance in the second session of the third day when he took three wickets in six overs to reduce India from 152 for 4 to 170 for 7. Ngidi started by removing Virat Kohli, who had batted for more than three hours and faced 143 balls for 29 runs, and then had R Ashwin and Shardul Thakur caught off loose strokes, but more notable than the names, it was the manner in which he took his wickets. After making his name as the kind of bowler who hits the deck hard, Ngidi operated completely differently at Newlands by pitching it up and finding swing. He listed this as one of his best series, especially "against this calibre of players" and despite it being "testing at times."
Though bowlers appear to have had it easier than batters in this series, Ngidi explained that it has been challenging for seamers to get their lengths right on surfaces that have not been entirely consistent in bounce. "The ball has been doing something the entire Test series," he said. "There are patches on the wicket where if you hit it, it does something a little more than others. And we could see, with patience, guys could score hundreds out there, there have been two 70s already, so with the right application, there are runs in the wicket. As a bowler, if you hit the right areas, there are wickets as well."
The match won't last five days - and if you take into account the rain-affected day in Centurion, none of the Tests has - but Ngidi praised the surfaces, especially this Newlands one. "It's a good cricketing wicket. Everyone is in the game. It's pretty evenly matched out."
He sees the match hinging on whether Keegan Petersen will find someone to post a half-century stand with or whether South Africa's middle order will fold against the relentless Indian pace attack. "If we were to have a 60-run partnership upfront tomorrow morning, that puts us in a good position. If they were to take early wickets, that shifts it to them. It's perfectly poised at the moment."
India know that too. Kohli was heard on the stump microphone reminding both his team and South Africa how much was at stake. "Just relax guys," he told Dean Elgar and Petersen. "I can hear your heartbeat."
That's understandable. As Elgar said before the match, this is South Africa's biggest Test in the last decade and winning it could complete what has been a very slow turnaround from losing to Sri Lanka at home three summers ago and slipping to No. 8 in the rankings. There's enormous expectation, at home, and from far away. For instance, in Guyana, South Africa's Under-19 players, who are gearing up for their World Cup campaign, are keeping an eye. Their captain George van Heerden
said they're unlikely to wake up in the middle of the night to watch but are prepared to find out the results as soon as possible. "The management team have all got their laptops out and we are all watching from there," he said at a press conference.
India, meanwhile, will be eyeing their first Test series win in South Africa. On their last tour here, they won the final Test in Johannesburg. That South African team had superstars. This one, in Ngidi's words, just believes that "everyone has got to perform when they are asked to".