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Last Updated: Monday, 25 April, 2005, 09:40 GMT 10:40 UK
Nel reaches new level
By Martin Gough and Paul Grunill

There have been a few false dawns in the career of South African fast bowler and so-called bad boy Andre Nel.

Andre Nel
Born: 15 July 1977
Teams: Easterns, Northamptonshire
Tests: 15
Debut v Zimbabwe at Harare, 2001/02
62 wkts at 25.45, best 6-32
ODIs: 29
Debut: v West Indies at Trinidad, 2000/01
35 wkts at 32.17, best 4-39

Now, however, it seems he has finally found the consistency to make him a major force on the international scene.

Since returning to the side for the fifth Test against England at Centurion three months ago, he has taken 26 wickets in five games at a cost of just 17.6 runs each.

He dismissed Brian Lara in both innings during South Africa's win over West Indies in Barbados, and has now done so eight times in Tests.

It is a figure exceeded only by Australia's Glenn McGrath (13) and indicative of Nel's refusal to be daunted by reputations.

"I try to raise my game to get the top players out. That's the only way you can improve," he said.

"You put the hard work in and sometimes you get the reward back."

It is three years since Nel was first identified as a player capable of filling the wicket-taking third seamer role in support of Makhaya Ntini and Shaun Pollock.

But he was fined and reprimanded for smoking marijuana with team-mates on the 2002 tour in the West Indies - a charge he denied.

And in April the following year he was sent home from the South Africa A tour to Australia and handed a six-match ban after being arrested on suspicion of drink driving.

Andre Nel
Nel's body language has sometimes cost him dear

In December 2003 he was fined heavily for ungentlemanly conduct after sending West Indies batsman Chris Gayle on his way in Johannesburg by sticking out his tongue.

It prompted South Africa captain Graeme Smith to speculate that Nel had "a screw loose", although he was equally culpable when they were both punished for showing dissent during a Test in Wellington four months later.

Snarling aggression remains part and parcel of Nel's game, and the quality of his bowling can sometimes be overlooked as a result.

Former South Africa skipper Kepler Wessels, Nel's coach during a spell with English county side Northants in 2003, described him as a "jovial, larger than life character" but was in no doubt about his ability.

"He is very intelligent and easy to work with. He always gives 100% and he deserves his success," said Wessels.

Gloucestershire paceman Steve Kirby, who has been compared to Nel because he is also happy to let batsmen know what he thinks of them, agrees with Wessels' assessment.

"He's very good bowler - he's unorthodox in that he splays his front leg wide of the crease and angles the ball in at you, but he does take it away from the right-hander," Kirby told BBC Sport.

"Alright he brings the aggressive element into the package, but a lot of people don't give him the credit he deserves for what he actually does with a cricket ball."

Andre Nel and Makhaya Ntini
South Africa celebrate a series victory in Barbados

Nel's return to the Test side against England re-united him with Ray Jennings, his former coach at provincial level.

They have an interesting history which dates back to an incident in 2001 when Nel was reduced to tears after knocking Allan Donald out with a bouncer in a provincial game.

"His hero ducks into a short one so what does he do? He goes and sobs over him like a girl guide," Jennings was quoted as saying.

Jennings was later ordered to attend a disciplinary hearing after it emerged he had offered Nel money to target Donald.

Jennings escaped action after insisting his comments had been misinterpreted and were merely "a jest" intended to motivate Nel.

Whatever words of wisdom he has imparted since Nel returned to the team against England have certainly done the trick.

And the 27-year-old now seems likely to be a fixture in the South African team, whether or not Jennings retains the coach's position after their return home from the Caribbean.

"I play with my heart and sometimes it shows on my face. That's the kind of person I am," said Nel.

"I think I have my aggression under control a lot better now. I've cut down on the words and let the ball do the work."

Opposition batsmen have been warned.

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