For some players, Test call-ups are expected. For others, they come as a bit of a surprise. Considering Wayne Parnell has played just one four-day game the entire season, he fell in the latter category.
Parnell has earned the nod in South Africa’s Test squad as one of two all-rounders, as the hunt to find a suitable substitute for Jacques Kallis begins. The 24-year old is in contention, alongside Ryan McLaren, to take up the number seven berth in South Africa’s batting line-up. Each player brings a particular skill set to the team. McLaren is older and more experienced and has played more consistently for South Africa over the last few years. Parnell is a left-armer, aggressive, and has worked his way through the system to the top of his game. He’s been playing professional cricket since he was 17 years old and although he made his Test debut in 2010, he has evolved since then.
Surprise call-ups aren’t really South Africa’s thing, with conservative selection generally dominating. But Parnell was not all that left-field. Through A-team tours and work at the High Performance Centre, Parnell has started to build towards becoming a better, more mature cricketer. Still, when his phone rang and it was convenor of selectors Andrew Hudson at the other end, it was a surprise.
“I didn’t really expect the call-up. I’ve been placing the emphasis on one and four-day cricket. I played one four day game for the Warriors and did really well. When Hudson called me, I was surprised, but also really chuffed to be back in the set-up,” Parnell told the Daily Maverick.
Anyone who got a glimpse of Parnell sometime before the latter part of 2013 will perhaps wonder whether he can actually cut it at top level. Parnell’s control and consistency has sometimes been questionable, but he’s spent the last eight months working hard on making sure he fixes his issues.
With the help of Vincent Barnes, South Africa’s former bowling coach and the man currently in charge of the High Performance Centre, Parnell has not only worked on getting a little bit more pace, but also a small tweak in his delivery stride. The pair have known each other since Parnell first made his international debut at 18, when Barnes was in charge of South Africa’s bowling unit. Barnes has been the godfather of many of South Africa’s great young bowlers, with Dale Steyn being the most prominent from his school of fast bowling. It didn’t take long for him to notice where Parnell was falling short.
“I found that he was closing off and falling away with the long stride and his wrist was in a poor position and so was his body. So we was angling it across the right hander and losing a bit of pace. He was also running in way too fast,” Barnes told The Daily Maverick.
“With a little bit of rope and cones, I straightened him out a bit. Luckily his coach at the Warriors, Piet Botha, was with me during one of the sessions. We worked together really closely to try and get the best out of Wayne,” he added.
Barnes spent a large part of the South African winter working with him and Beuran Hendricks from the Cobras, both left armers, on strategies for gaining more control of their bowling.
“It’s especially important up front with the new ball in one-day cricket. Because both of them swing the ball into the right hander, it’s important to focus on not just bowling gas. Parnell bowled into the pads a lot, so we worked on bowling across the right-hander. For me, when I work with these guys, I try to teach them that the secret is to bowl as if the ball is not going to swing. Once they have settled, they can start working on making the ball swing,” Barnes explained.
Swinging, seaming and bowling straight is important, and has yielded great success for players like Vernon Philander, but it’s Parnell’s pace which gives him something extra. Although speed is something which cannot be coached, working on skill when you have great pace is crucial.
Parnell has recognised this already and knows that he needs to work on making sure he controls the ball better, despite the fact that he has the demeanour to be a typical scary fast bowler.
“Sometimes bowling so fast works against you. When the wickets are flat, that’s when you have to have real skill. I feel that over the last season or so, I’ve developed my skill, but sheer pace won’t get you anywhere. I do practice my yorkers, but that’s obviously something you bowl a bit less in Test cricket,” Parnell said.
Parnell’s career has not been fluent. He’s been in and out of the national team, his four-day experience has been restricted due to his national commitments in the limited overs squad and he has been plagued by injury. The injuries are gone now, though, and while nobody knows yet who will walk out as the new face come 12 February, Parnell is relishing the chance to be able to test himself against some of the best in the world, should he be the man called upon.
“We have to wait and see what the selectors go with. But as a professional sportsman, you always want to test yourself against the best in the world. I feel Australia are one of the better teams at the moment,” he said.
Parnell’s growth as a cricketer has been carefully guided by his mentors, like Barnes, but he also has a close bond with South African head coach Russell Domingo. Domingo was in charge of the Warriors when Parnell made his debut for the franchise.
“I’ve learned a lot from Russell; he was coach at the Warriors when I first started playing. He knows what I am capable of and he backs me a lot. It’s nice to know I have the backing of the coach. We have a very honest relationship, especially when I don’t do things well,” the quick explained.
Being given extra responsibility is something Parnell thrives on. He is at his best when he is given a big task to perform and, if he is the one picked for the first Test against Australia, he will certainly have some responsibility. Not only will he have to execute precision control with the ball, but he will also have to shoulder some of the batting. He’s no mug with the bat, though, and has scored two List A hundreds already. Although batting against a fired-up Australian attack is a different beast, Barnes has no doubt that he is capable of performing if selected.
“The biggest challenge is to settle down and understand his role, batting at seven and bowling long spells and the importance on his batting…I rate him very highly. Having the type of bowlers he will have around him will also help a lot,” Barnes explained to Daily Maverick.
The players Parnell will be surrounded by in the Test set up will be the key for Parnell, not only for his immediate prospects, but also his future. If selected, a good performance against Australia and settling into the team will put him in line for the future. At 24, he has a long career ahead of him and if South Africa are looking for a future prospect, he is the better option compared to the 30-year-old McLaren. Parnell is also a left-armer, which adds something extra to the attack and will allow some rough to be created to aid the spinners later on in the game. Which player will step out for that first Test against Australia is anyone’s guess at this stage, but should the opportunity present itself to Parnell, taking it head-on is crucial.
Gazing into a crystal ball, some believe if Parnell can find control, consistency and settle down into the team, he has the qualities of a captain. He was, after all, captain at the age group levels, and has taken charge of the Warriors before, too. Is it in the back of his mind? Of course, but Parnell also understands that it’s something that will take time.
“It’s something I’ve been thinking of about the last few seasons. But first, I want to first establish myself in all three formats. I’ve enjoyed my time at the Warriors when I’ve been given responsibility. When Davy and Colin aren’t around, I can step up, which I did last season. It’s nice to feel that hunger I had with the under 19s,” said Parnell. DM
Photo: Wayne Parnell (REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)
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