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Young Parnell will boost South Africa

South Africa have just finished a net session at St George's Park ahead of the fourth one-day international against Australia in Port Elizabeth.

The players make their way to the exit, where a group of excited fans are eager to secure an autograph from one of their heroes.

Wayne Parnell, South Africa's new opening bowler, instead stays behind and chats to a few of the young net bowlers provided by the Eastern Province Cricket Academy.

He seems to be very comfortable, chatting and laughing away, probably talking about the latest PlayStation or Xbox game on the market.

It's no coincidence that the Booysen Park teenager feels at home, as it was not more than 15 months ago the 19-year-old was sitting exams with most of the very same guys at Grey High School before his meteoric rise to leading the Proteas attack in the World Twenty20 in England.

"I never thought everything would happen this quickly. When I returned with the SA U-19 team, I was on Extra Cover with my coach at the time Ray Jennings. He said I would play for South Africa within 18 months and I thought 'what is this guy saying'," Parnell recalled yesterday.

"I had set myself a goal of being part of the 30-man squad for the 2011 World Cup, but that's obviously been fast tracked now by two years.

"Other people have obviously seen something that I didn't."

Parnell is still boyish at heart, as illustrated by him losing his cellphone and wallet two days after landing in England last week, but he has shown great maturity on the field since making his international Twenty20 debut against Australia at Brisbane in January. The teenager made a hesitant start at the Gabba by conceding 44 runs in his four overs, and also dropped a catch in the outfield, which had a major influence in South Africa losing the match by six wickets.

The left-arm swing bowler, however, quickly consigned his horror debut to the history books by truly announcing himself on the home leg of the one-day Australian series, with man-of-the match figures of 4/25 at Centurion in the second ODI.

The performance meant a lot to Parnell, especially because it proved to his teammates, who were his heroes not too long ago, that he belonged on the highest stage.

"These last few months have been really funny. I mean, coming into the side as a young guy, the other guys are obviously thinking what is he doing here? Is he meant to be here? But I know I've done well, I feel the guys are backing me. It gives me a lot of confidence to know they are behind me 100%."

It is no laughing matter taking the new ball in Twenty20 cricket, especially when the likes of Virender Sehwag, Chris Gayle, and Brendon McCullum, who Parnell will come up against in South Africa's second match on Tuesday.

Parnell is well-equipped, though, in both the swing and pace departments to handle the pressure.

There might have been concerns over his lack of experience in English conditions, but a six-week stint with English county championship side Kent prior to the showpiece event has benefited him tremendously.

"When I signed for Kent it definitely was with the World T20 in mind. It went really well and I might go back after the tournament, depending on what the bosses say.

"I played six one-day games and I learned a lot - that you can't just run and bowl like back home. You require a lot more skill over here, bowl a few more slower balls and you can't always expect the ball to swing, despite the overcast conditions," Parnell said.

Although Parnell is quite a useful lower-order batsman too, he is quite happy that he's not been called upon yet by South Africa.

"It means we're doing well," he says. Instead all he is concentrating on is his primary role to help South Africa win their first major ICC trophy since 1998.

If he even comes close to repeating his U-19 World Cup performance, where he topped the charts with 18 wickets at 8.38, the Proteas will definitely be in the running for the Lord's final on June 21.

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