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
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
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
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
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
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 ...
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