'He is fiery and he comes at you hard'

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The Independent Online

By now England should have seen off South Africa. Back in December, six weeks and five Test matches ago, that was the intention and the expectation. It has not quite gone according to schedule and somehow South Africa have managed to hang on to the edge of the parapet, even while England have trodden on their fingers, as they did at the Wanderers a week ago.

By now England should have seen off South Africa. Back in December, six weeks and five Test matches ago, that was the intention and the expectation. It has not quite gone according to schedule and somehow South Africa have managed to hang on to the edge of the parapet, even while England have trodden on their fingers, as they did at the Wanderers a week ago.

Somehow, because the home team are in an obvious state of transience bordering on disarray. In this series they have used 18 players; in their last seven Tests they have given debuts to six players; in this match they have split their hugely successful pair of opening batsmen to shore up a frail middle order. It is the pin-the-tail-in-the-donkey method of team selection with the pin having been thrown away, and it provides the stability of a straw in the wind.

The 18th player to be used in this rubber is by some distance the most competitive. The fast bowler, Andre Nel (pronounced as in "yeller", which is not entirely inappropriate as he yells, shouts, squawks and generally tries to make each bowling stint into a piece of high drama), lends the side a distinct edge.

He makes his captain, Graeme Smith, a constant chirper himself, appear a model of restraint. As Smith said: "He's sitting next to me in the dressing-room and you can see his feet twitching as he gets close to the start."

Andrew Strauss, England's opener, confirmed that Nel had quite a lot to say for himself. "He is fiery - he's at you and he comes at you hard," he said. "I'm not sure if he's speaking in Afrikaans or not but I try not to listen too closely. They came at us very hard, as hard as they have done all series."

That was not all down to "Nel the yeller", but his aggressive streak must be contagious. It is also important to remember that he has more going for him than being permanently in the batsman's face. A year ago he dismissed Brian Lara five times in the four-match series against West Indies.

Nel got Strauss out an over before the second and fiercest electric storm of the day brought an early end to proceedings. He was trying to rough up the left-handed batsmen from round the wicket with a mixture of short and good length balls, and two balls after hitting Strauss on the shoulder he had him caught behind.

Smith agreed that his team were at their most fiery yesterday. "It's the most aggressive we've been in the series, because with five fast bowlers you can attack for a lot longer," he said. "[Shaun] Pollock and [Makhaya] Ntini started off perfectly, and we had good back-up from Nel."

There was enough lightning round the ground to give birth to Frankenstein's monster and it made for eerie and, as Strauss said, uncomfortable cricket for a while before lightning stopped play. "It's off-putting when you're batting and it's definitely in the back of your mind. You hear stories about people being hit by lightning all the time so you want to get off as quickly as possible."

Smith was disappointed but almost resigned to his side's possible fate at losing so much time because he could see the opportunity of levelling the series being split asunder by these bolts.

"We started well with the ball, and although it's disappointing, we're still positive. We've got to be," he said. "We're going to be giving it our all. There have been a few disappointments throughout the series but if we go back to the Wanderers last day, we let ourselves down. It has cost us now with the weather. That is where we lost the Test series if we don't get back on the field tomorrow."

It was already thought this series had it all, but with Nel and the weather, it has now been struck by both thunder and lightning.

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