To fix Wayne Parnell, Vincent Barnes used some rope.
Barnes was at one time South Africa’s bowling coach but now he is involved with the high performance squad, and something had to be done to get higher performances out of Parnell. The young talent had been lost in a sea of professional shirts. Delhi Daredevils, Eastern Province, Kent, Pune Warriors, Sussex and the Warriors have had their piece of Parnell. And he is only 24.
Somewhere between airport lounges, he lost what they all wanted, and South Africa cricket was losing him as well.
Early in his career, which started when he was still 17, it looked like Parnell was going to be a long-term hit. A fast-bowling left-hander who could get movement and bat a bit. Of recent times his batting had disappeared. His bowling had lost its accuracy and movement. And South Africa simply moved on.
Marchant de Lange, Kyle Abbott, Ryan McLaren, Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Rory Kleinveldt have all been used while Parnell was out of Test cricket. Not to mention Vernon Philander, who has fitted 100 wickets at better than 20 into that timeframe. If any team in world cricket could walk away from someone like Parnell, it was South Africa.
But Kallis is gone, so things have changed quickly. So despite only two First Class matches with some success this year, he found himself in a squad to play Australia. And four years and three days after his last Test for South Africa, Parnell was running into bowl on a pitch the Australia bowlers and South Africa batsman had gone out of their way to prove had less life in it than a dime store mannequin. Australia took two wickets with seam, Parnell was the fourth seamer. It could have gone very wrong.
This is a bowler who has found himself in some trouble in the past. He was sucked in by the good life of cricket. He was in the South Africa team at 19, playing for Kent at the same age. He had money and a bright future, you can see how he found himself at a raided rave in India. His heart even had an irregular beat at one stage, putting even more doubt into him coming back to International cricket.
Parnell has changed. Young players who show promise often disappear just as quickly. If they are really good you hope they either find a mentor, or fix themselves. Parnell has had both. With some rope and cones to correct his run-up, Barnes has clearly got him bowling very well. He looks upright and relaxed at the crease, and if you can get movement on this pitch you must have a superior wrist.
But Parnell has also clearly changed himself. He has a new faith, one that means he doesn’t want certain sponsor logos on his shirt. At 24 he has tasted something that he hadn’t at 19: failure. So now the new bowler is back, having seen off two others in the squad who have been used in his absence with only eight first-class wickets this season.
For a seasoned Test bowler, looking at this pitch was like looking at a hard day waiting to happen. For a young guy getting a surprise second chance after being out of Test cricket for a sixth of his life, it must have looked like heaven.
The second delivery he bowled was left alone.
The first ball squared up Alex Doolan from a good length. South Africa had run out of options with Doolan and in one ball the guy with a first-class average of 32.94 and a huge collection of frequent flyer points had taken Australia’s new No. 3.
The third ball was full, it drew Shaun Marsh into a shot, then it moved away, more than virtually all the sideways movement achieved by Australia’s bowlers combined, and he had more wickets than any other seamer in the match.
Later he would come back in and, after wasting an over with short balls to Nathan Lyon, he was right back in there and should have taken this third wicket (making him more successful than Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris and even the mighty Mitchell Johnson combined) only for JP Duminy to drop Lyon at gully. Australia found no edges that carried to anyone, Parnell took three.
In six overs he out-bowled the world’s top four, according to the ICC rankings, including the best (Dale Steyn) and the most in-form (Johnson).
He might not take another wicket this Test but by bowling as well as he did, he has already given his side a chance of winning a game that people were already marking down as a dull and dreary draw. His hair made everyone interested, his wickets kept them that way. Suddenly the option to pick a fourth seamer wasn’t a mistake, but a masterstroke.
It was a long four years. A short three balls. And a glorious two wickets. It might be a long time before he gets four years off again.