Forget any notions ahead of tomorrow's Edgbaston Test that South Africa minus the injured Dale Steyn will be an easier proposition for England's broken batsmen.
Andre Nel, drafted in to replace Steyn, who has a broken thumb, yesterday warned Michael Vaughan's team that they will not only have to contend with his desire to re-establish himself as a Test match bowler but also with an alter ego so potent in his imagination that he has even given it a name.
Nel, the 31-year-old fast bowler from Transvaal with a reputation for snarling and sometimes foul-mouthed aggression, blames his status as cricket's favourite villain on a mythical character called Gunther.
But far from trying to prevent Gunther from imbuing what his friends claim is a calm, friendly nature with a hostile, venomous streak, Nel confirms that he fully expects his other half to make an appearance in the third Test as soon as the contest demands it. "Oh yes he will definitely come out – there's no doubts about that," Nel said, explaining that he decided his split personality merited two names after a conversation with one of South Africa's technical analysts.
"One of our computer guys said I was a bit like those little guys in Germany who live half way up a mountain and have a lack of oxygen to the brain that makes them crazy. Sometimes that happens to me, it seems.
"Gunther seemed a good name for him. I talk to him on the way to my mark. Andre has to keep Gunther in line sometimes but the aggression is part of my armoury.
"When I used to play with Polly [Shaun Pollock, the former South Africa Test captain and fast bowler], he was a big help to me. It was amazing sometimes. One part of the attack would be quiet and calm and Gunther would be at the other end." Steyn is out of the Edgbaston match because of his broken thumb as England seek to bounce back in the four-Test series, having gone one-nil down with their 10-wicket defeat at Headingley last time, when South Africa bowled them out for 203 in the first innings and were denied an innings victory only by rookie all-rounder Stuart Broad's unbeaten 67.
But Nel, who took six for 81 at Centurion Park in 2005 in his only previous Test against England, insists he has matured as a bowler and that England will discover there is more to his game than posturing, even though he expects the abrasive side of his game to be visible.
"I will be pumped up but smart," he said at Edgbaston yesterday. "I don't think I will be going overboard. It is a bit of white-line fever but the older you get the smarter you get and I use my aggression in better ways. Playing for four years with Essex has helped make me smarter and I am used to these conditions so I hope that will help me.
"I played a couple of one-day internationals here and I remember bowling a bouncer that put Freddie [Flintoff] on his back. I have done OK here.
"It's unfortunate for Dale that he has picked up this injury but I am excited and looking forward to the challenge. It will be my first Test here. It has been frustrating waiting [for a chance] but we have a good squad and the guys have been playing well. You just have to wait."
England's Alastair Cook confirmed that Nel would often turn to Gunther for inspiration when they played together for Essex.
"Yes, I know about Gunther – he's an idiot," Cook said. "He probably [gets cross] more for Essex because he can get away with it," Cook added. "He [Nel] is a friendly giant off the pitch but seems to need Gunther on it. He is a great lad but when he crosses that white line he gives 100 per cent. It's slightly strange, but that's just part of him. We get on really well at Essex and I hope he takes his chance in this Test – but not too well."
The South Africa coach, Mickey Arthur, feels Nel, who played his last Test match in January before being controversially omitted from South Africa's tour to India, is the perfect man to replace Steyn. "Any time Andre plays for South Africa he's fired up," Arthur said. "I can't wait to see him bowl. I think he's going to do really well."
South Africa have allayed fears Jacques Kallis will miss the game, insisting the all-rounder is "100 per cent fit" despite suffering a blow to a finger against Bangladesh "A" last weekend, forcing him to retire hurt when batting.Reuse content