In just 15 Tests, Vernon Philander has already racked up the records and cemented his place as one of the most successful bowlers of his time. Skipper Graeme Smith reckons he can get even better. By ANT SIMS.
Vernon Philander made his debut in Test cricket with expectations heaped on him and more than a few question marks hanging over his head. But since then, he’s done everything right. Having now taken nine five-wicket hauls in 15 Test matches at an average of 16.81, it’s hard to imagine that Philander will stop reaping the rewards of the hard work which earned him a Test call-up.
It’s also hard to imagine that he can improve his game at all. His impeccable accuracy, the way he keeps the seam of the ball so straight and manages to land almost every ball at a perfect length – all of his technical abilities have helped him rise through the ranks in a very short period of time.
He already has 87 wickets in his 15 matches, and stands in line to become the fastest South African to the century mark – if he keeps on taking five-wicket hauls at will, as he seems to be doing.
Is it possible that Philander could become even more threatening? Graeme Smith seems to think so.
“I think he can still get better. If he can pick up a little bit of pace, which I think he’s definitely got, I think his old ball spells will get even better and his new ball spells are already so effective. If we can get his old ball spells to that standard, I think he can get even better,” Smith said after the second Test against Pakistan at Newlands, a match where Philander picked up yet another five-for.
While South Africa has quite rarely needed a second new ball in recent times, Philander’s devastation certainly is more fierce when it comes to getting breakthroughs with the new ball. He remains destructive in the middle overs against the middle order, too, having picked up most of his wickets against them.
Out of his wickets, 35 scalps have been batsmen who bat between four and seven, and he’s managed 31 wickets of the top order; those batting between one and three. He’s been somewhat kind to the tail-enders, picking up just 21 sticks of those batting between eight and eleven.
It would be foolish to say that Philander has shortcomings, but Smith believes the big man will always be developing – although he hails his current skills as extraordinary.
“Vern has got the results, but he will tell himself that he is still a work in progress. He’s had a few niggles as of late and I think he himself would like to see his pace up a little bit. His skill factor is immense – the seam action that he gets out of his hand, the question he asks batsmen. To stand at slip and watch that is quite something,” Smith said.
When Philander first burst onto the Test cricket scene, he left everybody in awe, because what people could mostly remember was that guy who dropped the catch against England. That guy who seemed ludicrously arrogant for somebody who seemingly didn’t have much to offer. That guy who couldn’t stop chewing gum. All his misdemeanours were soon forgotten, though, as he translated his form from the domestic circuit to the international stage.
Allan Donald had cautioned that Philander shouldn’t take his success for granted, because there would be lean patches. Those are yet to be seen, however, and if Smith’s prophecies are to be believed, they might never come to fruition.
“After a not-so-successful T20 World Cup in 2007, (Philander) worked hard on his shortcomings. He sharpened his skills in domestic cricket. This success must, however, not be taken for granted. It’s now that I must let him understand why he is successful. This is important because there will be lean times as well,” Donald said.
“Vernon is a bowler of high quality. He honed his skills in a hard way and is an intelligent bowler who took to heart the lessons he has learnt over the years,” says Donald.
Bowling at pace doesn’t always equal success. Some of the best bowlers in the world has had tremendous careers without having to rely on being quick, but one of Philander’s greatest strengths is the fact that he knows how to use his variation. If he can find a way to up his pace with the older ball and find a way to exploit that variation, Philander is well on his way to becoming one of the most destructive bowlers of his generation. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Vernon Philander (R) bowls to Pakistan’s Misbah-ul-Haq on the first day of their second cricket test match in Cape Town, February 14, 2013. On left is Pakistan’s Asad Shafiq. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
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