Champions Trophy 2017 June 5, 2017

Eight years on, Parnell looks to make amends

Wayne Parnell's career has been dented by injuries, exclusions and inconsistency. Now without Dale Steyn and Kyle Abbott, South Africa could be helped by Parnell's improved and refined avatar
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Wayne Parnell has forced himself back in contention after frustrating spells out of the side © AFP

The most exciting thing South Africa offered at a major tournament in England since their 1999 semi-final at Edgbaston was Wayne Parnell. A decade after the drama of the tie, Parnell, then a 19-year old left-arm quick, tore his way through England and West Indies at the World T20 to put South Africa on course for the cup. We all know how that turned out, but we may have forgotten how Parnell did. Eight years later, he is back to show us.

Not all of that time has been kind to Parnell. After the novelty of his potential faded into inconsistency, he struggled to keep his place. And then injuries struck. A groin strain suffered at the IPL robbed him of what would have been a crucial second bite at a global event - the 2010 World T20 - and most of the next season. So began a topsy-turvy period in and out of the national side, which only stabilised after Parnell played a full summer of domestic cricket, six years into his professional career.

Parnell was left out of all formats of the national team in the 2015-16 summer and spent time honing his craft at Cape Cobras. Though he was hampered by a foot niggle for some parts of the season, he played more regularly than in previous years, was tasked with greater responsibility which even included opening the batting in some limited-overs' matches (Parnell was initially touted as an allrounder, remember?) and he accepted it with aplomb. He finished as the third-highest wicket-taker in the 2015-16 season domestic One Day Cup and led Cobras to the final. At their awards ceremony that year, he scooped four titles, including Player of the Year, and it was around then that talks of a comeback began.

Last February, Russell Domingo explained how despite Parnell's reputation for being erratic, he remained valuable because things happened around players like him. By the time South Africa went to the Caribbean in June to play a triangular series, Parnell was back in the mix and had begun to have serious discussions with Domingo about his future. "Over the last 12 months, I sat down with Russell and tried to figure out a way that I could play more consistently in this one-day outfit," Parnell said in Birmingham, where South Africa are preparing for their second Champions Trophy game against Pakistan on Wednesday. "Consistency was one thing that was mentioned."

Parnell knew that he had to become more reliable in his contributions to the team but for that to happen, he also needed more certainty over his role. That only came at the start of the 2016-17 season, when injuries to the lead pacemen, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, and the Kolpak-enforced departure of Kyle Abbott allowed Parnell to establish himself as a new-ball bowler. He has opened the bowling ten times in 13 ODIs since September 2016 and taken 18 wickets at 24.77 with an economy rate of 5.63, which is much-improved on the 18 times he opened the bowling in 51 matches before that. Then, he took 34 wickets at 28 with an economy rate of 6.21; so not only has Parnell become more dangerous but he has also learnt greater control.

That was evident in his performance against Sri Lanka on Saturday, when he went wicketless but returned from a first spell that cost 45 runs in five overs to concede only nine runs in his next five overs. Sri Lanka's situation had changed from the start of their innings when Upul Tharanga was on the attack to a more resigned pace of scoring in response to the inevitability of not being able to chase 300, largely because of Imran Tahir, but the way Parnell pulled things back was a good sign for South Africa.

"It was about staying in the moment, staying in the game. The first five overs didn't go according to plan. When AB [de Villiers] called on me for the last five overs, it was about doing what was needed in that particular time," he said. "I've got plans in place that I want to try and implement. It's about being smart."

Parnell thinks Pakistan may provide a similar challenge, which may mean South Africa will opt for a similar attack that could include both specialist quicks, Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel, and only two of the four allrounders. Parnell is one of them but does not see himself fighting for a place against Chris Morris, Andile Phehlukwayo and Dwaine Pretorius.

Rather, he considers himself a cog in a South African wheel which will turn depending on conditions. "For me it is not a case of competing with somebody else. I bring a different skill set to this bowling unit. It's just about trying to be the best version of myself," Parnell said. "We are at a stage where everyone is comfortable with staying and sitting out at different times. We've developed a culture of horses for courses. It's more about what's needed at the different venues than performances."

Regularly impressive performances have told the story of Parnell's coming of age. More of them could turn back the years to the glory of 2009, except that this time, he will want to take the team one step further.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mekkayel on June 7, 2017, 12:21 GMT

    @sngomes, complain all you want, but an odi average of 28 with the ball and an ER of around 5.50 is world class. a lot of teams don't even have a front line bowler that has a similar record, and his batting is a plus, be grateful he's actually doing well since he came back from injury!

  • Cricinfouser on June 7, 2017, 8:43 GMT

    He was arguably the best young player in the 2009 world cup, I don't think his selection is justifiable based on his recent performances. In 2009 he could swing the ball both ways and bowlover 90mph over 90mph. Alas, the beauty of the quota system.

  • GoodAreasShane on June 7, 2017, 7:53 GMT

    Unlike Duminy, Parnell's international statistics are quite respectable. I really don't think he deserves quite the level of criticism he gets.

  • Vpd23 on June 7, 2017, 5:27 GMT

    Waxing or Wayning!? Left to see. If he gets his mojo back and stop trying to be like an Akram probably he will do well in the remaining years.

  • SnGomes on June 6, 2017, 18:32 GMT

    @Mekkayel on what basis? Parnell has been poor for a long time and SA fans are well aware of his faults. apparently just being a Saffer or a Pakistani automatically makes any bowler in these teams good or even great for neutrals like you? Good performance and consistency does not matter.

  • aby_97 on June 6, 2017, 15:34 GMT

    He is going to leak runs against the top 5 teams.South Africa are too reliant on all rounders than specialists.Morkel, Rabada and Parnell should be your fast bowlers with Morris.Andile, Pretorious and Maharaj can easily have a bad day.

  • cricfan2728009984 on June 6, 2017, 15:06 GMT

    To be frank, Andile P for me is better than Parnell or Pretorius

  • cricfan98717155 on June 6, 2017, 14:49 GMT

    Dining and Parnell both are rubbish, who never been consistent and never work hard to develop their skill. They spent almost 10 years with International career but not a good achievement. Look at QDK, du Pulsis, Rabada and Chris Morris how they rise that level so quickly.

  • ImonG on June 6, 2017, 13:40 GMT

    He was awful to begin with against Sri Lanka. The so called comeback happened when the inexperienced Lankan batting line up was dented by Tahir. That's not going to happen against line ups like India Australia or England. AbDv had to hide his bowling against this Lankan line up, will he be able to afford the same luxury against better batting teams ? No. In the world t20 in Bangladesh, and the 2015 world cup in Australia, Indian players ruthlessly attacked Parnell, and both the time, he was found wanting. He really needs to steel up to be successful in the long run. He does have a tendency to succumb under pressure, and once good opposition knows that, there's no hiding from that.

  • Kyle Driscoll on June 6, 2017, 12:59 GMT

    Totally agree with everyone who says ABD is not a good captain. With such a strong bowling lineup his tactical decion making makes the side look mediocre. Faf is a much smarter and adaptive captain, his record speaks for itself. AB should just be he best batsman and fielder in the side, those are difficult jobs without the burden of captaincy.

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