Philander will grow and grow
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - From amidst the relative wreckage of the Proteas’ failure to win yet another home Test series, have emerged buds of future hope in the form of Vernon Darryl Philander.
The 26-year-old seamer from the Northern Suburbs here was a most deserving recipient of the player-of-the-series award after the shared two-match tussle against Australia, even given the mostly bowler-friendly conditions at both Newlands and then the Wanderers.
His 14 wickets spread across his first two appearances at this level, at a superb average of 13.92 contained no flattering element at all: those who watched the series in its farcically short entirety will recall just how many other times he went narrowly past the outside edge with his ever-disciplined, bustling stumps-to-stumps formula.
Having him open the attack with more senior partner Dale Steyn also turned into an inspired development – Philander is by no means express but he hardly lacks endeavour and aggression and turned into a wonderful foil for the skiddier, nippier Phalaborwa Express with Morne Morkel waiting in the wings to retain pressure as tall-timber first change.
Almost automatically now one of the favourite sporting sons of the Ravensmead community, Philander’s rousing success in his first series simultaneously sends out a message of hope to any similarly consistent performers in SuperSport Series cricket that eventually higher-level reward is, indeed, possible.
The fast-chewing, fast-talking Philander has certainly served a long “apprenticeship”, if you like, in the franchise arena for the Cape Cobras, being a standout wicket-taker for several seasons.
Although it needs to be taken into account that in the current, international-heavy climate, someone like Steyn plays most of his first-class cricket at Test level, it is reasonably illuminating nevertheless that Philander’s first-class average (19.72) is a fair bit better than Steyn’s (24.21).
We have basically received confirmation over the past fortnight, even if a little belatedly, that Philander is a class act and well up to the demands of Test combat.
With a bit of luck, the startling immediacy of his success will not go to his head, and he will also appreciate the need for him to continue to work hard on his batting to ease the ongoing problem of an iffy South African tail – he gave glimpses of his known capability with the blade in the Proteas’ second innings at the Bullring.
He certainly made some experts sit up and take notice, while he did his own level best to earn South Africa what really should have been an overdue home series success against an Australian side less steely overall than any other to have visited our shores since the end of isolation.
“He hits the seam and moves the ball both ways,” SuperSport commentator and former national captain Kepler Wessels said approvingly.
And another canny, revered medium-fast competitor in Test cricket, Shaun Pollock, noted: “Whether with the new ball or old ball he bowls so straight and (makes batsmen) play.
“If he gets the Dukes ball to talk in England next year (when the Proteas have a three-Test series against the present No 1-ranked side – Sport24) he could be really dangerous.”
Pollock made the good additional point that the Cobras star ought to benefit, too, from the looming Test commitments by South Africa looking well-geared to Philander’s strengths.
They are due to play Sri Lanka over three Tests at home next, in conditions that obviously will not be dissimilar to those seen against the Aussies, and including as they do another at Philander’s home ground of Newlands.
He might have added that the Lankans will have had no prior experience of facing him: none of Philander’s 16 appearances for the Proteas across all three formats have yet come against these foes.
Next up is a tour of New Zealand, where the pitches can be low, gripping and slow, but seam movement is a factor, especially when the weather is cool and overcast.
Right now the world seems Philander’s oyster, if he also appreciates that Test cricket won’t always seem this easy ...