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South Africa turn to Lungi Ngidi to carry resurgence forward in India

He has the form and the record, and he'll need to lead the attack with Rabada and Shamsi both absent

Deivarayan Muthu
Lungi Ngidi prepares to bowl, South Africa v England, 1st ODI, Cape Town, February 04, 2020

Lungi Ngidi prepares to bowl  •  AFP via Getty Images

In his first press-conference on his return to India, South Africa captain Quinton de Kock was asked if the inexperience in the line-up on this tour was a "weak link". De Kock countered that question, replying that they still have the likes of Faf du Plessis and David Miller, who have vast experience in these conditions, having been regulars in the IPL. On the bowling front, however, South Africa are without Kagiso Rabada, who is still recovering from injury, and Tabraiz Shamsi, who is on paternity leave.
In the absence of their No.1 quick and No.1 spinner, South Africa will look to Lungi Ngidi to step up once again. The 23-year old had led the attack admirably against Australia at home, his 6 for 58 in Bloemfontein wrapping up the series for the hosts. During the process, Ngidi became the fastest South African to 50 ODI wickets, getting there in his 26th match.
Ngidi is just over three years old in international cricket, and has had his fair share of injuries during this period, but has already grown into a well-rounded white-ball bowler. He's adept at bowling in the Powerplay as well as at the death, something that was on bright display during the home summer. In the second ODI against Australia, Ngidi hit hard lengths in the early exchanges and later returned at the death to snip off the tail with his variations.
South Africa's dominance, though, did not seem as likely when David Warner was in charge. He had used the extra pace and bounce of Anrich Nortje to his advantage, cracking the tearaway for 25 off a mere 12 balls. Where Nortje offered width, Ngidi immediately cut that off and took down Warner with his third ball. Ngidi hit a length that was neither cuttable nor pullable, on off stump, and although Warner had made some room of his own by backing away, he could only spoon a catch to cover.
Then, after the Powerplay, Ngidi got rid of both Steven Smith and Marnus Labuschange by steadily building up pressure. By the time Ngidi had returned for the 34th over, Australia had recovered to 181 for 4, but Ngidi rocked them with another triple-strike. His offcutters gripped in the tiring Bloemfontein surface and proved too good for Australia's lower order.
These variations and the scrambled seam had also scrambled the minds of England's batsmen in the T20I series opener at Buffalo Park, helping Ngidi defend seven off the final over. Overall, in the death overs in T20s, Ngidi has picked up 27 wickets at an economy rate of 8.01.
He has done the job at the death in the ODIs as well, giving up just 203 runs off 194 balls while claiming 19 wickets at an economy rate of 6.27.
India's lower-middle order has been strengthened by the return of Hardik Pandya, but South Africa can count on Ngidi and his good friend Andile Phehlukwayo, who also has some canny variations in his repertoire, to deal with India.
It's also worth noting that Ngidi has a decent ODI record against India: eight wickets in four games at an economy rate of 6.18. However, he has just played a solitary international in India - the Ranchi Test last year, where he not only went wicketless in 20 overs but also leaked over four runs an over.
So, the question is can Ngidi be as effective in India as he is on the juicier tracks in South Africa? Ngidi can draw confidence from IPL 2018, where he emerged as an unlikely hero for Chennai Super Kings, especially at the death. He even fronted up to the Powerplay, and in the end his smart economy rate of 3.77 was by far the best among 42 bowlers who had bowled at least 25 overs in the tournament.
Ngidi wasn't selected for the first seven games that the Super Kings played in IPL 2018, but then the franchise had their home games shifted to Pune and they adapted on the fly, understanding the value on his pace - and sometimes the lack of it. Against Kings XI Punjab on a spicy Pune pitch, Ngidi repaid Super Kings' faith and bagged a career-best 4 for 10 to knock them out of contention.
Ngidi then missed the following IPL season and suffered multiple injuries that year, but he's now back to his best. In South Africa's last ODI series in India, Rabada denied MS Dhoni at the death and closed out the match skilfully. There's no Rabada on this tour, and there's no Dhoni either for India, but Ngidi has it in him to lead South Africa's attack and extend their resurgence.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo