Vernon Philander starred with ball and bat for South Africa on Day Two of the first Test against India in Johannesburg. His all-round show has kept South Africa in the hunt as quite surprisingly, it is India who have the upper hand after the first two days of the Test match. He picked up four wickets and is two runs short of a half-century. Shrikant Shankar writes about the man who has the uncanny ability to keep surprising people quite regularly.
Any bowler who has taken 99 wickets and not completed his 19th Test match has to be considered a real class-act. A strike-rate of 38 and average of less than 20 just adds to the impressive figures. But somehow Vernon Philander is not talked about in the same breath as his countrymen Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel when it comes to bowling. But in the first innings of the first Test against India, the South African pacer proved yet again why he is much more than just filling up the numbers.
India were at 255 for five at stumps on Day One in Johannesburg. Ajinkya Rahane and MS Dhoni looked to build a solid partnership and take India past 300 at the least. Philander did not get it right on Day One. His sole wicket was that of Rohit Sharma and it was the batsman who gifted his wicket with a loose shot. But on Day Two, he picked up the right lines and lengths and took three more wickets.
First Rahane edged a length delivery which moved away from to AB de Villiers behind the wickets. Next ball, Zaheer Khan was too late as another length delivery crashed into his pads and he was out leg-before. Philander got his fourth wicket as Ishant Sharma was bowled with another length delivery that moved away from the right-handed batsman. India were bowled out for 280 and added only 25 runs on Day Two and lost five wickets.
The way Philander bowled was brilliant to watch. He is nowhere close to Steyn and Morkel when it comes to speed, but he gets the ball to move late in the air and also a little after pitching. Now that is two great assets to have as a bowler. At the time it seemed like India were in a real spot of bother. South Africa started well and were comfortable at 130 for one just as the final started on Day two. Graeme Smith had scored his half-century and with a world-class middle-order batsmen still to come, things looked ominous for India.
If credit is given to Philander, the same has to be given to India’s three seamers. Ishant found the right line and length like Philander and dismissed Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis in consecutive deliveries. Then Zaheer came back to dismiss Smith, yet again. Mohammed Shami was not far behind and in two out of three deliveries, he broke South Africa’s spine. De Villiers was out leg-before and then JP Duminy edged one to Murali Vijay at first slip. Suddenly, South Africa were at 146 for six.
With the Indian bowlers on song, it looked like it was only a matter of time before the Proteas innings folded. But Philander has added an unbeaten 67-run partnership with Faf du Plessis for the seventh wicket. What is surprising is that du Plessis, who is the recognised batsman of the two, is batting on 17 off 55 balls. Philander, though, is batting on 48 off 76 balls. His innings has consisted of five fours so far. Things could have looked much better for India as Rohit Sharma dropped a sitter at second slip to dismiss du Plessis off Shami’s bowling late in the day. But Philander’s innings did not include any misgivings. He batted quite superbly for a No 8.
People might think that Philander gets the benefit of playing alongside Steyn and Morkel. And there is no doubt playing with those two would help any bowler, but Philander brings something extra to the table as well. When he gets wickets, he gets them in bulk. He also contributes nicely with the bat. He is two runs short of his third half-century in Test cricket. South Africa are at 213 for six and they trail India by 67 runs. Philander’s effect can still last a little longer and that deficit can easily be overturned. Against the run of play, Philander has been scoring at ease in comparison to du Plessis. India will be eager to dismiss Philander early on the third day.
South Africa vs India — Live on Ten Cricket
(Shrikant Shankar is a writer/reporter at CricketCountry.com. Previously he has done audio commentary for various matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20 for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)
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