Vernon Philander – the catalyst of the South African charge
Vernon Philander… 87 wickets in 15 Tests © Getty Images
By Nishad Pai Vaidya
The Proteas juggernaut rolls on with a series-clinching victory against Pakistan at Cape Town. With world class batsmen and dangerous bowlers, Graeme Smith’s unit has proved that they have the right mix to topple any challenge along their way. That very strength is reflected in the fact that they haven’t lost a Test since December 2011 and haven’t conceded a series in almost four years. A major catalyst in that phenomenal run has been the crafty seamer Vernon Philander, who keeps getting better with each passing game.
South Africa’s last defeat in Test cricket was against Sri Lanka at Durban on December 29, 2011. That was Philander’s second Test series, coming at the back of the enthralling series against Australia. If South Africa has remained unbeaten for so long and moved from strength to strength, a lot of the credit has to go to pacer – who has shown tremendous maturity and has handled the big stage brilliantly.
Let us have a look at Philander’s career figures:
These are remarkable numbers for someone so young into Test cricket. In his first 15 Test matches, Philander has had a massive impact on the fortunes of his team and that is clearly evident with those numbers. Scalping nine five-wicket hauls in only 15 outings is an incredible achievement and they have come at crucial intervals for South Africa.
To say that Philander’s introduction into Test cricket was spectacular is an understatement. During the see-saw Test against Australia at Cape Town in 2011, it was his spell that titled the balance in favour of the hosts when it looked like the tourists had a stranglehold. His spell of five for 15 tore the Australian batting apart and they were packed for 47. South Africa romped home to victory in a comfortable fourth innings run-chase. The debutant announced his arrival with a breathtaking performance.
When South Africa toured New Zealand in 2012, Philander’s decisive spell of six for 44 won his side the second Test at Hamilton. The Proteas had the lead, but needed to dismiss New Zealand cheaply to gain total control. Philander’s burst limited South Africa’s fourth innings target to only 101 — one that was achieved with minimal fuss.
Perhaps Philander’s most crucial fifer came when South Africa were eying the mace i.e. the No1 spot in the Test rankings. In the third Test against England at Lord’s in August last year, South Africa needed a win to take the coveted spot. The England batting were making a spirited pursuit of a target of 346, but were kept in check by him. He broke the back of the top order and then returned to finish the job with the last two wickets. Smith’s men realised their dream at the Mecca of Cricket and celebrated like there was no tomorrow.
While Robin Peterson may have walked away with the man-of-the-match for his all-round performance in the latest victory against Pakistan, Philander’s efforts weren’t far behind. Pakistan played with a lot of fight and vigour. It was their spirit that won hearts if not the game and it required Philander’s persistence and consistency to outsmart them. South Africa were tested by Pakistan, but he rose to the occasion and delivered.
Along with Dale Steyn, Philander has formed the most threatening opening combination in the world. At one end you have a Steyn, who steams in with a lot of fire and bowls at scorching pace and generates copious movement. While on the other end, you have a Philander who uses subtle variations and seam movement to trick the batsmen. They complement each other very well and fit into the machinery perfectly. There is no respite for the batsmen when the two bowl in tandem. Even if batsmen ward off both, there is a Morne Morkel waiting to have a go at them. That is the South African attack — no respite for the opposition.
In a 15-month long career, a few records have already come Philander’s way. He is the third fastest to 50 Test wickets — a feat he achieved in only seven matches. With 87 victims in 15 games, he is poised to become one of the fastest to a 100 Test wickets. The record holder is George Lohmann, who achieved the feat in 16 games. Philander would need an outstanding performance in the next Test against Pakistan to pick those remaining 13 wickets and equal the record — a tough proposition, but not impossible given his form.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)