Wayne Parnell: South Africa's main man
Multi-skilled cricketers. That was what South Africa were looking for while picking their squad for the Under-19 World Cup. The emphasis was on players who were fit, had the right attitude, and could bat, bowl and field. Obviously all 15 of their players in Malaysia don't fulfil the criteria, but Wayne Parnell comes close. Few cricketers in the World Cup bear the responsibility that Parnell does: he is the captain, a powerful middle-order batsman, and most importantly their new-ball bowler. And he has led by example through the tournament.
Parnell, a left-arm fast bowler, is South Africa's best bowler by some distance, having taken 14 wickets in four matches in the lead-up to the semi-final. He began poorly as a batsman, scoring a duck against West Indies but hit his stride in following games. His all-round performance in the quarter-final against Bangladesh ensured that the match was a no-contest: Parnell lifted his team from 135 for 5 with an aggressive 57 and then broke the back of the Bangladesh challenge by taking 6 for 8 in five overs, routing them for 41. Parnell's effort hid the fact that he had the flu, and had been struggling with fever and a sore throat.
He undoubtedly has the five qualities but puts a premium on attitude. "If you have a good attitude then your routines will be good while batting, bowling, fielding and in fitness," he said. "I think attitude is probably the most important of the lot."
Parnell's words are almost out of U-19 coach Ray Jennings' coaching manual for he also looks for attitude and toughness in his charges at the age-group level. "I look for more character: someone who gets knocked on the head and can wake up in the morning and start growing again," Jennings said. "If you haven't got that [character] then what is talent.
"He's [Wayne] a very tough cricketer. He's probably the best cricketer in our country [at U-19 level]. From what I've seen he's probably in the top five in the world as an allrounder. There's no allrounder in Malaysia at the moment that bats and bowls at Wayne's standards."
Parnell, however, didn't begin his career as a genuine allrounder and says that his coach at Eastern Province Christo Esau had a lot to do with his development.
"When I started, my bowling was better than my batting," Parnell said. "And then Christo said though I would make most sides with my left-arm bowling, which is quite rare in youth cricket, I needed to up my batting to make it as an allrounder. So from 2004 I worked really hard on my batting and that's paying off now."
South Africa, unlike the other two contenders for the World Cup - India and Pakistan - put together their U-19 side only in December 2007, giving Parnell a home series against India and Bangladesh to settle into the captaincy. He said the pressures have increased since 2007 as he's become a senior in the U-19 set-up.
"The players respect him because he's a performer: he bats and he bowls," Jennings said. "That's what you want from leaders - to lead from the front and to lead by example. And knowledge - he has experience because he went to the last World Cup."
Parnell, who is 18, began playing for Eastern Province's U-13 side when he was 12 and was captain the following year. He didn't make the U-15 side initially but at the age of 15 began to play for Eastern Province and South Africa at the U-19 level. He made his first-class debut in October 2006.
Parnell plays a tremendous amount of cricket at school, club, age-group and provincial level and because he performs a dual role in the team, he has to monitor his physical condition carefully.
"Most of my coaches don't over-bowl me," he said. "They set out a log book so that I can log my overs. So I haven't over-bowled myself and picked up little niggles. I try to bat as much as possible maybe three-four times a week for about an hour and a half."
It's a big step up from U-19 level to first-class cricket and the national team, however distant, is Parnell's goal. There are several allrounders already in the South African set-up but Parnell is one to watch for the future.
George Binoy is a staff writer at Cricinfo