Parnell the cat among the pigeons come SA tour to England?

2011-12-21 00:00

CAPE TOWN — While both teams still face several assignments beforehand, many devotees of Test cricket are already licking their lips about South Africa’s 2012 tour of England.

Modern series between the two are almost unfailingly engrossing and competitive and, with England ranked No. 1 in the format and facing the last side to knock them over on their own terrain in 2008, the stakes may be even higher than normal in roughly the middle of next year.

Particularly keenly awaited, no doubt, will be a rip-roaring contest, assuming all top candidates are fit, between the respective pace attacks.

A quick glance at the ICC Test bowling rankings confirms these teams’ dominance of the global pack with both boasting two strike bowlers among the top five.

The Proteas’ Dale Steyn still stands imperiously at the helm, with Morné Morkel at No. 5, while for England James Anderson and Stuart Broad occupy slots two and four. The extra man among the elite quintet is another Englishman, albeit an off-spinner in the shape of Graeme Swann.

England have ano­ther seamer just sneaking into the top 10, in bustling Tim Bresnan who, like Broad, is a healthy lower-order factor with the blade.

But the cricket world has also become acquainted recently with a certain Vernon Philander, the South African whose first three Test matches have netted him a near-fairytale harvest of 24 wickets and early comparisons with Glenn McGrath for the awkward corridor he lands the ball in often enough.

England certainly ought to suit his strengths, and it is beginning to look as if the Proteas will be predominantly characterised by the “skiddy” menace of Steyn and Philander, pitted against a strikingly tall battery of Englishmen capable of both banging the ball in for intimidatory purposes, while well familiar with the local requirement of kissing the deck on a fullish length.

South Africa will hopefully be able to answer this stratospheric bombardment through their own beanpole Morkel, who is generally a much improved customer from the one who often wasted too many deliveries in the otherwise successful 2008 tour of England.

The common denominator among the two pace arsenals: they’re all right-armers. So wouldn’t it be handy if, by the middle of next year, the Proteas are able to at least contemplate fielding a left-arm fast bowler for a possible edge in variety and angle of attack?

And that’s why I, for one, keep watching the fortunes of Wayne Parnell at his Warriors franchise, with special interest and always a strong element of hope.

People forget that even if he has had his technical, injury-related and occasionally behavioural ups and downs, Parnell is still only 22 and a rookie who sports just three Test caps thus far.

The first of those came in the innings thrashing of the very England on their last visit to our shores in 2009/10, when the Proteas at least levelled up the series 1-1 in the fourth and last Test at the Wanderers after suffering the frustrating experience of having the tourists nine down in their second innings twice but having to settle for draws each time.

Parnell contributed to the Bullring slaughter with the key wickets of captain Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen in England’s second knock.

Among other things, certain problems with his action have intervened since, but he is happily back in the midst of a protracted spell of first-class and limited-overs activity with the Warriors and faring decently, if not spectacularly.

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