Vernon Philander – Breaking a Tradition

What's common in Peter Pollock, Allan Donald, Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel is that they all are tear away quickies. Apart from Shaun Pollock, who only slowed in his last 3-4 years, South Africa had the tradition of producing raw pacers who take wickets by pace, but Vernon Philander might be the one who has broken through this custom.

Vernon Philander

When Vernon Philander played in his first test against Australia in 2011, a lot of people raised eyebrows about his selection as he didn’t fit in the legacy of great South African fast bowlers. Fast, furious, aggressive, that’s the normal trait which is required to play for South Africa. One needs to have at least one characteristic of the above three to be ranked as great protea paceman. Morkel was kind and gentle, but he had pace and bounce with him to make up. Philander was just opposite of these traits, who neither had pace nor aggression of his predecessors. Above all his failed stints with limited over side didn’t impress fans.

Fast forward to April 2018, Day four of the fourth Test against Australia, Philander wrecked a hapless Australian side with a remarkable swing and seam finishing with 6-21. In the process, he completed 200 test wickets and now stands at 204 wickets in 56 tests at an impressive average of 21.46 with 13 five wickets hauls, and two 10 wicket hauls.

He is still only 32 years of age, and there is good chance that he may play for another two to three years which means he might reach 300 test wickets. As a bowler, Philander is quite the opposite to all the great South African bowlers. He bowls wicket to wicket medium pace relying on control, seam and swing, a trait which brings him closer to Shaun Pollock.

In his 12 years of career, Pollock’s first 7 years were much pacier than Philander. This is why Philander has his own class. Any other bowler who comes close to his style was Pakistan’s Mohammad Asif, a brilliant bowler forced out of World Cricket due to a spot-fixing case.

Philander became fastest South African to reach to 50 test wickets in just 7 tests. Despite slowing down later, he still has contributed a lot to team’s success. In 2012, he took 12 wickets in England to help his side win an important series. Six months ago, he took 21 wickets in New Zealand to win the hard-fought series. In 2013-14 and 2014-15, he had an offseason where his bowling fell off the radar, but he has been mentally tough like his ideal Glen McGrath and bounced back in 2015-16 and 2016-17 season. Since October 2015, he has played 10 series and barring a lone series in New Zealand in 2017; he has averaged below 25 in other nine, a highly commendable average in the modern era for a bowler.

At a time when South Africa are going through a period of transition with players like Dale Steyn,Ab De Villiers, Hashim Amla nearing the end of their careers and Morne Morkel already retired, Philander will play crucial role to guide the young South African pacers like Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Duanne Oliver, Chris Morris and so on. He is an important player considering he is handy batter and South Africa will need all his experiences if they continue with coach Ottis Gibson’s formula of 5 bowlers in test cricket. Considering he has still some time left Philander might end up among the finest South African bowlers ever but with a league of his own.