DEWALD Nel could be just one match away from a sensational return to the international cricketing arena when Saltires open their home Yorkshire Bank Pro 40 campaign against Essex at Raeburn Place tomorrow (1.45pm).
The 32-year-old Watsonian player/coach has been recalled for the first time since 2010 after overcoming a back complaint and selectors have indicated that performances at the Edinburgh venue tomorrow will weigh heavily with Pakistan due in the Capital for one-day internationals on Friday and tomorrow week.
It is a fairytale return against Essex for all-rounder Nel who is only a series of six “dot” balls away from achieving the notable feat in the era of limited-over big-hitting of achieving a century of maidens in the colours of a Scottish team he has represented 110 times, which is more than all bar half a dozen others.
“I’m delighted to be back and will give it my all if selected,” said the South African-born Nel who also believes there is less pressure compared to when he debuted in 2006.
“I suppose when you get to my age and with a few appearances under your belt you are not proving things to critics any more.
“I’ll maybe relax a bit more in still trying to do myself justice and it is fair to say at this stage of my career I’ll hopefully try to find something extra from knowing the next game could be my last at top level.”
Turning out for the Saltires enabled Dewald to catch the eye of Worcestershire who took him to New Road for the 2007 season.
The following year, in a match between Scotland and Bermuda, he became the first player to bowl two maiden overs in a single international Twenty20 match.
Such credentials played a part in Kent stepping in with a two-year contract in 2010 but a back injury saw the deal end prematurely.
“Injuries are part and parcel of the professional sportsman’s lot, but it was hard to come to a conclusion about what was causing the pain from my lower back,” he said.
“I think that having played for a few years my body was telling me to take a wee break,” added Nel whose last match against county opposition was back in 2009.
Ironically, a back niggle suffered by Gordon Goudie when the Saltires acquitted themselves favourably in an opening day defeat at Hampshire has opened the door for Nel in the only change from the initial squad.
“I took the opportunity to get myself more involved in coaching and Watsonians are among the first clubs to promote all-year round practice helped by the new facilities at George Watson’s College.
“I was working in the nets right up until Christmas and beyond and entering the new season I’ve played four games so far.
“Watsonians obviously did well last year (they won the Scottish Championship) and the way cricket is set up in this country, being part of a successful club means you are more frequently in the shop window.”
Encountering Essex, who bounced back from an opening defeat by Hampshire with a four-wicket win over Durham, means going up against some world-class performers including Graham Napier.
The one-time Ipswich Town goalkeeper was a member of the England squad for the 2009 Twenty20 World Cup as well as turning out for Mumbai in the IPL.
Almost exactly two years ago, Napier equalled the record for most sixes scored in a first-class innings when he cleared the ropes 16 times as part of a 130-ball 196 for Essex.
Shortly afterwards Napier declared himself “primarily a batsman” although Nel says sagely: “There is no such thing as a tail end in a one-day team who have to bat right down the order. Graham Napier is an extremely dangerous opponent.”
Nel is also known for hitting out and every run he scores will prove vital if Saltires are to overcome Essex for the first time in seven meetings, especially with the bowling attack featuring Sajid Mahmood who was a member of England’s team for the 2006-07 Ashes series. Current England skipper Alastair Cook is rested and fellow cap Ravi Bopara is on duty with England Lions but it is still a formidable 13-man squad which travels north.
Saltires coach Pete Steindl again hands the captaincy to Preston Mommsen after the Carlton all-rounder led from the front with a top score of 60 at Hampshire.
No caps are being awarded by Scotland in the final season of competitive action against English counties, but it still promises to be a red-letter day for Paddy Sadler, the former under-19 captain who moved from RH Corstorphine to Watsonians and on to Cambridge University where his pace bowling has proved effective.