Australia in SA

Philander’s back with the bat!

2014-02-04 22:48
Vernon Philander (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - While his ongoing exploits with the ball continue to command centre stage at Test level, Vernon Philander has quietly been reprising his promise of several years ago as a legitimate batsman.

It is good news for those who believe, with some merit, that improving general resilience at the lower end of the South African batting order will go at least some way to making up for the recent retirement of metronomic crease dominator Jacques Kallis.

Philander was at it again at the Wanderers on Tuesday, where a Proteas XI started a three-day warm-up match for the imminent Australian series against a ‘Composite XI’ that carries many healthy hallmarks of a South African ‘A’ side.

The first-innings workout for many of the main Test batsmen in the Bullring probably didn’t go quite to plan, with nobody in the top six managing more than 36, but it was noticeable that in an eventual scoreboard of 300 all out, Philander led a rearguard effort with his brisk unbeaten 58 off 91 balls.

While the relevance of this particular game should not be over-stated, his knock in many ways continues a pleasing individual pattern in recent times: tangible upward movement of his batting average.

Philander has compiled 469 Test runs at 23.45, and has a particularly pleasing knack of late of showing great defiance at the crease in our often “sporty” conditions.

Just two Tests ago he registered 59 and then 25 not out in the pulsating, drawn first encounter with India in Johannesburg, and in his previous Test on home soil, against Pakistan in 2012/13 at Centurion – where the first Test against the Baggy Greens starts on February 12 – achieved a personal best in the arena of 74 in the Proteas’ lone required innings of a one-sided victory.

The now 28-year-old’s big match temperament as a batsman had previously come to the fore in the decisive third Test against England at Lord’s in 2012, when they snatched the ICC Test mace in a grip not since surrendered.

The host nation fought tooth and nail to level the series there, but Philander’s 61 and 35 (not to mention his match figures of seven for 78) were instrumental in a 2-0 series outcome being secured. He had been joint top-scorer with JP Duminy in the tourists’ first innings.

 

South Africa went through a phase in post-isolation where bowlers like Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener, Pat Symcox and Nicky Boje meant the Proteas carried relatively few true bunnies in batting terms – such men were not averse to wholly altering the complexion of a hitherto shaky SA innings.

Two or three years ago, though, the tail had become rather fluffier, with either of Paul Harris or Dale Steyn often asked to do duty around the No 8 berth.

With respect, that was probably a station too high for both, even though Harris was an obdurate, straight-batted customer ideal for night-watchman duty at times and Steyn can be a very spirited striker of the ball when it is in his area for “treatment”. (Nor can we ever forget that momentous 76 in Melbourne in December 2008, still his lone half-century after 69 Tests.)

But the fairytale, slightly belated introduction to Test cricket of Philander in late 2011 meant that, on paper at least, the Proteas were filtering back into their mix the sort of seam bowler boasting orthodox credentials with the willow.

During the “seven batsmen” policy employed for a good chunk of the Gary Kirsten coaching tenure, Philander was sometimes in a position to take guard as low as No 9, but that may just change more regularly now – and there is mounting evidence that South Africa have absolutely nothing to fear with the bustling Cape Cobras player at eight.

Nor is it out of the question that, as the years go by, Philander might even warrant being hiked to No 7 and still do anything but let the cause down.

People who have followed the Bellville-born customer’s career from its first-class infancy for Western Province almost 10 years ago would be among the least surprised, because they will also recall that Philander started out as a genuine No 6-type of all-rounder at provincial level.

His abilities at the crease – where he can play forceful strokes off both feet and shows a healthy sort of nonchalance against all comers when the mood grabs him – took a bit of a back seat as his earliest Test matches, in  particular, were marked by astonishing success  in the wickets column.

But Philander reawakening to the realisation that he is still, in essence, an all-rounder, must be viewed as good news locally with the Aussie series – likely to be challenging for both batting line-ups – just around the corner.

His brisk, counter-punching ability in the lower order may prove invaluable ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  ozinsa  |  vernon philander  |  cape town  |  cricket
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