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  Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 07:41 GMT 08:41 UK
Thunder rumbles again
Mfuneko Ngam
Ngam burst onto the Test scene at the end of 2000
At the end of a season of woe for South Africa there is at last some good news, with the return to training of pace prospect Mfuneko Ngam. Marcus Prior reports for BBC Sport Online.

It has been a long, fraught and largely unsuccessful summer for South African cricket.

But the flagging fortunes of the side that only recently considered itself potential world champions have been given a massive boost by the news that Mfuneko Ngam is well on the way to full fitness.

Ngam burst onto the scene in late 2000 when his ability to move the ball at searing pace earned him 11 wickets in his first three Tests.

I'm actually feeling stronger than I was before
Mfuneko Ngam
South Africa believed it had discovered the man who would inherit the mantle worn for so long by Allan Donald. What's more - he was black.

In a corruption of Donald's long-held nickname White Lightning, Ngam became know to fans as Black Thunder.

But injuries had always played a major part in Ngam's short career and he was soon back under the surgeon's knife.

In all, the 23 year-old has suffered four stress fractures as well as ligament damage to his bowling shoulder.

Heart-warmingly for South Africans, now accustomed to defeat at the hands of Australia, Ngam returned to the nets last month, and says he is fitter than ever.

"I'm fit and ready. I'm actually feeling stronger than I was before," Ngam told BBC Sport Online. "The pace is there, the swing is there - I haven't lost anything.

"I was in Durban before the last Test against Australia and bowling in the nets to the guys there and Shaun (Pollock) was there watching and asked me why I couldn't play for him the next day."

Increased strength

For almost any athlete, fear that an old injury might recur remains ever present.

Ngam, though, believes he has turned the corner, even if his return to fitness has come right at the end of the season.

Mfuneko Ngam
A new gym regime will help prevent further injury
"The reason why I had all the stress fractures is because my body was not strong enough for that level of the game.

"I never went to the gym - I only ran and did push ups. Now I'm doing weights and I can feel a big difference.

It may seem bad timing, but Ngam is glad that he has had the time to deal with all of his various injury problems.

"Almost everything happens for a reason and when I had the last stress fracture to my leg my shoulder was not 100%.

"Every time I bowled I could feel it but because I wanted to play badly I even went into games keeping quiet about the injury and saying I was fine.

"But the stress fracture forced me to rest - I was not as disappointed as people thought I was, because I knew the shoulder needed to recover too."


As for the dramatic end to the Test career of his role model, Donald, who broke down in the first home Test against the Australians before calling it a day, Ngam's thoughts were heartfelt.

"It was so sad - I couldn't even watch it.

Allan Donald attended by the physio in Johannesburg
Donald's retirement followed his on-field injury
"But everywhere I go people have been saying 'Gammy, you're the only one who can take his place in the side. Your actions are similar and we need someone like you in the team'.

"It really helped my motivation, especially with all these trips to the gym. I just wanted to get out there and play."

It will be some time before that happens. South Africa do not get together again until September and the domestic season is drawing to a close.

But at least South Africans now have something to look forward to next southern summer.

News and features on the home-and-away series between cricket's top Test sides

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See also:

26 Feb 02 | Australia v South Africa
20 Oct 01 | Cricket
21 Feb 01 | Cricket
30 Jan 01 | Cricket
10 Jan 01 | Cricket
07 Dec 00 | Cricket
Links to more Australia v South Africa stories are at the foot of the page.

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