Parnell gives South Africa the look of world-beaters

South Africa 183-7 West Indies 163-9 (South Africa win by 20 runs)
  • @stephenbrenkley

At some point South Africa will implode. It always happens. As one major event follows another it is the constant factor. They arrive confident, well prepared, on top of their game, bristling with intent and then comes the cock up.

But not perhaps this time. Or at least not yesterday in the 2009 World Twenty20. There were periods, albeit brief ones, when the tide might have been turning against them in the Super Eight match against the West Indies but each time through skill, judgement, inspiration or luck they repelled it.

The West Indies were on a high, bestowed by their unexpected, bold victory against the champions India the previous day. So confident were they indeed that they invited South Africa to bat, clearly fancying their chances of chasing down any target they were set. They probably suspected that this might be the occasion for South Africa to feel the heat of growing expectation.

Not so. By starting with a flourish with both bat and ball – the key to the destiny of so many T20 contests – the new tournament favourites ensured that their opponents were always trying to find a way back in. In Wayne Parnell, they appear to have unearthed a diamond of a fast bowler. Quick, accurate, fearless with a smooth action and only 19 years old, he should be around for a decade.

Parnell took four for 13 in four overs on a pitch that was the batsman's friend. A year ago he was captain of South Africa in the final of the Under-19 World Cup. Called up into the senior one-day side in January his impact against Australia was immediate and in April he became part of Kent's plan to annex as many overseas fast bowlers as possible in a six-week contract with the county. Not surprisingly, they want him back.

South Africa's selectors, however, should pay him a fortune and wrap him up in cotton wool. It was imperative for the West Indies to start their pursuit assertively but Parnell removed both openers in his opening burst. Andre Fletcher heaved round one which was fast and straight, Chris Gayle failed to clear mid-wicket.

If that was not quite it, West Indies had it all to do thereafter. They have been invigorated by the advent of this competition and by sunnier days and they are unrecognisable from the squad that played so desultorily against England in the Test and one-day series in May. They are interested again. Gayle, however, must have known that he was taking a risk in asking South Africa to bat on a belter. Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis duly launched into the bowling.

They have both filled out as the years have gone by and if they were in an identity parade of nightclub bouncers you would not necessarily pick them out as the interlopers. Delicacy and elegance are not their watchwords as batsmen.

But Kallis, for so long criticised as one-paced in one-dayers, appears to have been reborn as a T20 opener. Both he and his captain picked the gaps well, and Smith larruped six fours in no time. They had romped to 54 by the sixth over when Smith drove to point, perhaps frustrated by having to put his own pace on the ball from the left-arm spin of Sulieman Benn.

Herschelle Gibbs, another one of the experienced brigade in South Africa's well balanced side, helped Kallis to put in another half-century partnership. If there was a defect to South Africa's innings it was they did not manage to propel the ball as far as they would have liked in the final five overs. Gibbs was out for 55 from 35 balls in the 15th over and none of their hitters came off.

West Indies were probably pleased that they had come back into it and they did not succumb easily. While Lendl Simmons was at the wicket there was always a slender prospect. Simmons must have been delighted that he had at last found an English surface on which he could hit through the line of the ball. For the last two months he has been more or less unrecognisable from the batsman who made an exhilarating 282 against England in St Kitts last January.

But he and the magnificent Dwayne Bravo had to stay together for there to be another upset. Smith changed his bowling at will and the South Africa fielding was again as alert as a presidential bodyguard. Bravo was dismissed rather limply, putting one down long off's throat and it was entirely down to Simmons then.

He died by the sword having made 77 from 50 balls and that really was that. Parnell returned to embellish his figures quite deservedly. South Africa look as though they really could go all the way this time. Honest.