Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
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 currently ranked No 1
in the format and facing up to 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
The curtailment of the series to three
Tests is infuriating many good judges, but it will probably only add to the
intensity levels as one lopsided session either way could tilt the balance – it
often does between these two foes.
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 (although Australia
are just beginning to stir again for frisky young head-hunters), with both
boasting two strike bowlers among the top five.
The Proteas’ Dale Steyn still stands
imperiously at the helm, with Morne Morkel at No 5, whilst 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
England have another seamer just sneaking
into the current top 10, in the shape of the bustling Tim Bresnan who, like
Broad, is also a healthy lower-order factor with the blade.
But the cricket world has also become
acquainted very 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 (too early, perhaps!) with Glenn McGrath for the
awkward corridor he lands the ball in with healthy frequency.
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 (don’t forget to add the especially lofty
Chris Tremlett to the hosts’ potential mix) 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, of course, will hopefully be
able to answer this stratospheric bombardment through their own beanpole Morkel
who, if you take away his slightly unfortunate performance in the first Test
against Sri Lanka a few days ago, 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, currently for 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.
Significantly, it might be argued, 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, it seems.
In the most recent SuperSport Series match
against the Dolphins at Port Elizabeth, he had encouraging first-innings
figures of 11.3-6-17-3, and reminded of his all-round ability by making 44 and
43 from the No 6 position.
That aspect was particularly heartening;
keep in mind, too, that only a month ago he registered a century as an opening
batsman against the Lions in the 1-Day Cup at Potchefstroom.
I still believe that the South African tail
is a tad too vulnerable against top-notch opponents, so if Parnell can just
start grabbing a “notice me” five-for or two in the SuperSport Series, his
competence with the bat could greatly assist a possible return to Test plans,
giving the Proteas back someone in the bottom three or four with Klusener,
Pollock or Boje-type credentials at the crease.
The national selectors recently returned
Lonwabo Tsotsobe to the Test squad, and although he has a praiseworthy knack of
proving critics wrong, a good part of me fancies the wise men may be backing
the wrong horse as far as left-arm seam options for the five-day format are
Swifter with the ball, stealthier in the
field and infinitely better with bat in hand, I’d love to see the Parnell
cricketing package closer to prospering once more for the national cause.
And thus also being in a better position to
steel himself for that enticing England tour ...