Mark Vermeulen will make a remarkable return to Test cricket on Saturday when Zimbabwe face South Africa, seven years after he burned down his country's cricket academy. (Getty Images)
Acquitted arsonist Mark Vermeulen will make a remarkable return to Test cricket on Saturday when Zimbabwe face South Africa, seven years after he burned down his country's cricket academy.
Vermeulen has been included in a 12-man squad for the one-off Test match after showing excellent form over the past year, and seems certain to be included despite his chequered past.
In 2006, he suffered the ignominy of being banned from English cricket for 10 years - a sentence later reduced to three - after he reacted to taunts from the crowd during a Lancashire League game by hurling a cricket ball at a group of spectators.
However his most infamous moment came just a few months later when, angered by his exclusion from a national training squad, he resolved to take revenge.
Although his plan to burn down the building that housed Zimbabwe Cricket was stymied when smoke from the curtains was spotted by a neighbour, the following night he picked another target and set fire to the thatched roof of the national academy.
The academy was destroyed and has never been fully rebuilt, but in 2008 Vermeulen was acquitted by a court after three psychiatric reports proved that a sickening blow to the head by India seamer Irfan Pathan during a one-day international in early 2004 had led to partial complex epilepsy and impulsive behaviour disorder.
The top-order batsman made a brief comeback in one-day cricket in 2009, but has not played a Test since facing Sri Lanka in May 2004.
"He's put his hand up; he is really looking solid at the moment," Zimbabwe captain Brendan Taylor said on Friday. "He is really calm for once, which is great.
"He brings a lot of experience to the table, he has a great cricketing brain and he is full of constructive ideas. Hopefully he will continue to have a clear mindset."
While the 35-year-old Vermeulen has cut a sedate figure over the past year, he has suffered recurrences of his anger-induced tirades even since his 2009 comeback.
Three years ago he ripped out the stumps and threw them onto the clubhouse roof during a first-class game in Mutare to protest unpaid wages owed to him and his Mountaineers team-mates.
As he prepares to face up to Dale Steyn, the world's fastest bowler, Vermeulen also knows that he could pay the ultimate price - the surgeon who operated on him after his 2004 injury warned that another blow to the head could be fatal.
"Every time I walk out to bat could be my last but I don't really worry too much about that," he told The Telegraph in 2009. "I love cricket too much."