In the first part of a new series, CRAIG LEWIS identifies fiery fast bowler Andre Nel as one of the most underrated former Proteas.
In rugby circles, powerhouse lock Eben Etzebeth has long been known as the Springboks’ ‘enforcer’, taking over the mantle from the legendary Bakkies Botha, who was one of the most feared and revered players in world rugby.
In a cricketing context, Andre Nel can undoubtedly be seen as the Proteas’ version of a proper fast-bowling enforcer, with the volatile paceman often actually overstepping the mark in the so-called ‘gentleman’s game’.
Once described by his former captain Graeme Smith as a ‘bit of a nutter’, Nel was all bluster and muster, lumbering to the popping crease in an often awkward-looking run-up before delivering the ball at some pace.
Nel was never the sort of player who just let the ball do the talking. When he was fired up, Nel thrived off aggression and getting into the face of the batsmen to quite literally ‘do the talking’ himself.
In some circles, this sort of loose-cannon approach left your more traditional cricket observers shaking their heads, but Nel was a player with guts, gumption and a clear passion for the game.
Who could ever forget the moment Nel was playing for Easterns against Free State in South Africa’s SuperSport series way back in February 2001, with the then 23-year-old instructed to target his idol, Allan Donald.
However, after he felled Donald with a fierce bouncer, Nel couldn’t hold back the tears.
Yet, this was the first signs of who Nel was – an aggressor, but also someone who wore his heart on his sleeve.
Throughout his career, Nel often wasn’t too far from controversy or fines for the use of foul language, but as former coach Mickey Arthur once explained, he found a better balance to his game towards the end of his cricketing journey.
‘Andre has got much better of late in learning how to channel his aggression in the right direction,’ Arthur said. ‘If he can, it gives him his competitive edge and I never want to take that away from him.’
In the end, Nel claimed 123 wickets in 36 Tests with an average of 31.86. Meanwhile, he racked up 79 ODI appearances, securing 106 scalps with an average of 27.68 and an economy of 4.63.
Ultimately, there were many memorable moments from Nel’s career, both as a player, fierce competitor and, effectively, as an entertainer.