IPL puts Parnell's career back on track
At the start of the 19th over of the game between Pune Warriors and Delhi Daredevils on April 17, with 21 runs to defend, Yuvraj Singh gave Wayne Parnell the ball. A few moments and a consultation or two later, Yuvraj took the ball away and decided to bowl himself. Parnell walked back into the outfield with a crushed look on his face that summed up his last year: always a fight, seldom a victory.
Ever since he picked up a groin injury in May 2010, Parnell has battled to be the same bowler who looked set to become the third prong of South Africa's pace battery. He got precious little game time to prove that he was still capable. The IPL has finally provided him with that opportunity.
"I haven't lost my ability," Parnell told ESPNcricinfo. "I may have lost confidence in my ability but I am on track." His eight wickets for 186 in seven matches leave him low in the list of leading wicket-takers, but being on a list is not the most important thing for Parnell at this stage. Having enough game time to rediscover his form is what matters most.
Parnell has only played eight ODIs since October last year, despite having been part of the South African set-up in that time. He travelled with the team for the series against Pakistan in November last year and played once. He was in the starting XI in three of the five matches against India in the South African summer, but lacked rhythm and penetration. He was picked for only one game in the World Cup.
"There were times during practice sessions when I felt really good, but bowling is very different to batting," he said, indicating that the nets can't really be a barometer for improvement. "Game time is much more valuable than bowling in the nets, so the importance of playing is vital." Parnell worked extensively with South Africa's assistant coach, Vincent Barnes, but had to wait until the IPL for that crucial game time.
Playing in the tournament itself is significant for the 21-year-old, who had to pull out of the 2010 edition before he got a game. He was signed up by Delhi Daredevils for $650,000 that year, and fetched $160,000 in the 2011 auction. Parnell didn't get the opportunity to play with his hero Ashish Nehra at Delhi but he has been able to share the stage with Yuvraj, Sourav Ganguly and Jesse Ryder at Pune. The team, which incidentally has the same name as Parnell's home franchise, the Warriors, has provided him with the environment to develop.
"It has been awesome being part of a new franchise and everyone at Pune has been so supportive," Parnell said. "Our philosophy isn't to win at all costs. Its azadi (freedom). We keep in mind the enjoyment factor because happy teams perform better under pressure."
Things did not go Pune's way that day against Delhi, or in the weeks that followed when they endured a seven-match losing streak. For Parnell, though, things have got better and he has been tasked with bowling at the death a few times since then, which he says comes naturally to him. "I think it [bowling at the death] started in my junior days because nobody else wanted to do it," he said. "It's the greatest challenge to test yourself against because the margin of error is so small and you are often bowling to guys who hit the ball 100 metres-plus. I definitely see myself doing that for the Proteas going forward."
The death-bowling role is also one that requires a certain maturity, as Lasith Malinga and Zaheer Khan will testify. Parnell is some years behind on the experience front, but is well on his way to maturing. His injury played some part in that coming of age. "What I have realised after my injury is that every game is completely different and your 5 for 30 in the last game means nothing in the next. Also, you have to be realistic; it's only a game and even the Tendulkars score ducks, the Steyns go for runs and the de Villiers drop catches."
Parnell knows there will be a fair few trying days to come, and maybe a few more occasions when he will have the ball taken out of his hand by his captain. But he feels he will be able to handle times like that with the wisdom of experience. Thanks to the IPL and a stint at Sussex, that experience will have grown by the time the next South African season arrives. So far in his career, Parnell hasn't been through a full domestic season of cricket. His chance could come this winter.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent