If Kyle Abbott thought he had it rough after only appearing in 11 Tests in four years, Wayne Parnell has had it rougher. In seven years, Parnell has collected just four Tests caps, mostly because injury has stunted his international progression but also because he has battled to break into a pace pack that has been well stocked. Now, with Abbott unavailable after going Kolpak and Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel unfit, Parnell could be in the perfect position for a long run.
He was included in South Africa's squad to play Sri Lanka despite no first-class cricket this season and could be in the starting XI for the Wanderers Test after a strong performance for Cobras at the weekend. Parnell took six wickets and scored an unbeaten 103 opening the batting in the second innings in their victory over Lions in Oudtshoorn.
Cobras interim coach Ashwell Prince, who was a national selector as recently as last September, believes Parnell should make a Test return later this week. "I'd play him. A left-armer complements what South Africa already have," Prince told ESPNcricinfo.
South Africa's current attack includes Vernon Philander who offers seam movement and Kagiso Rabada, who provides pace. Even though Abbott's job was more containing than attacking, Prince believes Parnell could be a handy third prong.
"They have got someone who has control in Vernon Philander and Wayne will add to the strike force. He is looking really good and starting to swing the ball back into the right-hander, which is something he had lost."
Parnell's ability to find movement waned as his injuries mounted. In 2010, less than a year after an impressive World T20 performance and with three Tests to his name, he suffered a groin strain at the IPL which ruled him out of most of the next season. He lost ground to Philander in the longer format and in 2013 was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat while playing for South Africa A against India A and had to wait even longer for a Test return.
It was only in 2014 that Parnell wore whites again, in Port Elizabeth against Australia. He took a wicket with his first ball and another with his third but only bowled eight more overs before leaving the field with another groin strain. Abbott replaced him in the South Africa squad and played the following match; Parnell has not featured in a Test since. He has been injured three more times - hamstring (September 2015), foot (November 2015) and rib (October 2016) - moved from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, from Warriors to Cobras, got married and put in first-class performances that have put him in line for a third recall.
Despite playing only half the matches in last season's first-class competition, he finished as Cobras' player of the season with took 23 wickets at 20.56 and scored 337 runs at 48.14. Prince has noticed some marked differences in Parnell's action, specifically at delivery point. "He has been working with [national bowling coach] Charl Langeveldt on his approach to the crease. It is not as fast as it used to be and that gives him a lot more control. Instead of sprinting in, which used to affect his stability at the crease, he is running in with nice rhythm. He has also done work on his wrist and release point."
Prince said the adjustments mean Parnell can offer a lot more consistency than he used to but more important than any of that has been a change in attitude. At 27, Parnell is older, wiser and has a greater understanding of what it takes to make it on the biggest stage. "There is a lot more maturity to his game. He is in his later 20s and married, maybe that has made the difference," Prince said. "He works as hard as anybody in the gym and on his fitness and his game. He is ready."
Parnell is competing with the rookie call-up Duanne Olivier for a place in the XI but South Africa may choose to include both quicks on the fastest, bounciest strip of the series. The Wanderers surface is generally spicy but heavy rain in the lead-up to the match could see it offer even more in the third Test. On Sunday, the pitch was being prepared under a tent and with showers forecast throughout the week it may not see any sunlight at all. South Africa also fielded an all-pace attack against England at the venue last year.