In only his first Test match, Vernon Philander engineered a spectacular comeback victory for South Africa. You know, the one where Australia were bowled out for 47.
Let’s take a moment to enjoy this moment of pure cricketing schadenfreude for the 78th time:
Much like Michael Hussey a few years ago, he is in the “statistical anomaly” phase of his career, having picked up 51 wickets in his first 7 Tests. In over a century of Test cricket, Philander is the second-fastest in history to 50 wickets.
He isn’t a mystery bowler, he has no particular tricks up his sleeve, there is nothing to “figure out” about him. He’s just a guy who knows where to put the ball, and then does. You can almost hear the movie voiceover:
In a world, plagued by flat tracks, where batsmen make bowlers suicidal… one man stands up to move the ball like no other. He is… the Philanderer. And he will make your balls talk.
He’s like James Anderson, but with more control, and like Praveen Kumar, but with an extra yard of pace. That combination of variable swing and laser-guided aim, backed up by briskness, makes him South Africa’s successor to Shaun Pollock. Every time he bowls a spell, he makes the phrase “perfect balls” bounce around our heads, somewhat obscenely.
In his first stint in international cricket in 2007-08, he played 7 ODIs as a like-for-like replacement for Pollock, taking 4-12 on debut against Ireland. He was moderately successful in other matches, even hitting the winning runs in a game against India, but two expensive outings in a series loss to England got him dropped until his 2011 return.
Philander’s presence greatly strengthens the South African attack (something that didn’t seem possible before his debut), offering scant respite from the relentless pressure, and also adds depth to the batting (his first-class high score is 168).
We could attribute his success to the fact that he has played his initial Tests mostly in conditions that favor him (at home and in New Zealand), but there’s no point pointing that out at this, er, point. With an upcoming series in England and then two more at home (against Sri Lanka and Pakistan), Vern looks set to have another monster of a season.
He isn’t being used in ODIs at the moment, but his List A bowling average of 35.35 and his indifference towards the IPL mean that Test cricket is where he wants to be, and that’s where he’ll stay.
by Rishabh Bablani, aka thecricketnerd