Sport

Cricket: Is Philander really the answer to South Africa’s ODI woes?

By Antoinette Muller 13 September 2013

Vernon Philander has been included in South Africa’s one-day side to tour the United Arab Emirates as of next month. For a long time now, the Ravensmead Wrecker has been wrapped in cotton wool and trumpeted as a Test specialist. South Africa clearly needs some impetus in the ODI format, but is Philander the answer? ANTOINETTE MULLER investigates.

Vernon Philander pulls no punches, obviously. Since making a comeback to international cricket in 2011, he has gone from the guy who dropped that catch against England to a bowler it’s hard to imagine South Africa without.

He was recalled to the South African one-day side earlier this week, for their tour of the United Arab Emirates starting next month. Many feel that it was about time he returned, but that notion is based largely on his efforts in the one-day game. His style of bowling – line and length – has served him spectacularly well in the Test format. His 89 wickets in 16 Tests at an astonishing average of 17.13 speak for themselves. Or, as Philander would say: “stats don’t lie”.

Philander, along with Rory Kleinveldt and Robin Peterson, will join the domestic franchise, the Cobras, on a pre-season tour to Namibia where their skills will be tested both ahead of the domestic season and ahead of South Africa’s tour.

But is Philander really the answer to South Africa’s one-day struggles?

When his international stats are laid bare, they suggest not. In eight matches, he has taken just seven wickets – four of those games in one game on his debut against Ireland. During his ODI stints in 2007, Philander was little more than a surplus bowler and to judge his performances on those outings would be obtuse. It was a similar story for the two games he played in 2008 – where he went wicketless. He played one ODI last year, against Sri Lanka, and that outing was largely unsuccessful. In six overs he took just one wicket and conceded 39 runs.

Stats sometimes tell only half the story, though. Philander can execute the yorker and the slower ball, two stock deliveries in any one-day bowler’s arsenal, but it’s the first six overs of his spells where he often struggles.

He’s not been outstanding in the one-day format domestically, either. He played just one game domestically last season due to his international commitments and that was a rained-off final. He managed 10 overs in that game with his first three overs being reasonably economical, conceding just eight runs. He strayed somewhat in his return spell, though, conceding 10 runs of his second return over. His final figures were 10-0-34-0, taking the new ball.

Before that match, Philander had last played a List A game in 2012 – the match against Sri Lanka – and prior to that it was in 2011 on an A-team tour. Judging the seamer on past stats is harsh, as is to say that his selection isn’t warranted based on his domestic numbers.

Technically, Philander might not look like a one-day bowler, but South African coach Russell Domingo said he was confident that some of Philander’s tactics could be up-skilled to be useful in the shorter format of the game. It’s probably a bit like learning to ride a bike – and Philander is not shy of learning. He had made up his mind last year that he wanted to get back to playing one-day cricket for South Africa and since then, he has taken every opportunity he can to make sure he refines his skills.

What might count in Philander’s favour is that he could generate movement from dried, cracked pitches expected in the United Arab Emirates. He is also likely to take the new ball, which will help him generate some movement.

His length will need adjustment as players are likely to take one a player bowling length. That’s the kind of mixing up of skill Philander is out to perfect. Knowing when to stick with length or when to bring in a yorker or a slower ball will be the key to his success. He also has aggression in his favour. With two bouncers allowed per over, the Ravensmead Wrecker might need to get a bit angrier in order to fully exploit his chances in one-day cricket.

Philander also adds a bit with the bat and can, when needed, serve as a lower order mega hitter to add a few handy runs lower down the order.

Until now, it seemed as though the 27-year-old was being nourished as a Test specialist. Perhaps an element of that was due to the risk of injury, but Philander clearly has no such fears. The experiment might not work out, and Philander might not emerge from his Test cocoon as South Africa’s one-day saviour, but it’s better to have tried and tested and keep wondering what could have been. DM

Photo: South Africa’s Vernon Philander takes a catch in the nets at Sydney Cricket Ground during a practice session October 31, 2012.  REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

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