ICC Champions Trophy

Philander deserves another go

2013-06-07 11:47
Vernon Philander (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Things can change in a hurry, but don’t count too heavily on Vernon Philander suddenly galloping in on horseback to rescue South Africa’s already back-foot ICC Champions Trophy campaign.

At the time of writing, the Proteas camp had still not given any indication that they would be plucking an extra seam bowler out of our winter to reinforce the squad, given the wretched situation of fitness concern over both Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.

There is a public and pundit clamour for Test sensation Philander to be the man on the receiving end of any SOS call, but the Cape Cobras customer himself has rather poured cold water on the prospect.

He pointed out on Twitter on Thursday (@VDP_24): “Lol, thanks for all msgs. Haven’t bowled or hit a ball in 2 months so don’t think I’ll be walking out there underprepared.”

Should an additional player be called up, perhaps under such circumstances the favourite ought to be Chris Morris, the Lions’ lower-order all-rounder who comes off a pretty impressive Indian Premier League campaign.

Twitter was used by other prominent personalities, during the course of South Africa’s 26-run Cardiff defeat to World Cup champions India, to express surprise or displeasure over Philander’s absence from South Africa’s plans.

Former England captain Mike Atherton described his non-presence as “bizarre”, the ever-outspoken SA off-spinner Pat Symcox said it was “probably our biggest selection debacle in 10 years” and another more recent Proteas performer, Paul Harris, questioned the national selectors’ judgement in “leaving guys like Morris and Philander out of squads”.

It may well be that the crying is over spilled milk, as far as the remainder of the Champions Trophy is concerned, given the rustiness Philander clearly has.

But debate has certainly been rekindled, after several of the Proteas’ seamers were crashed all over the park by no-nonsense Indian batsmen, about his suitability to the ODI format, one from which he has overwhelmingly been overlooked since 2008.

Philander has a mere eight ODI caps, the majority of them up to that point: he did make a once-off comeback in the home series against Sri Lanka two summers ago, recording a ho-hum 6-0-39-1 on the often sun-baked belter at Kimberley which seldom seams prodigiously and is not suited to his particular brand of skiddy, get-it-up-there bowling.

In truth, Philander, who was much younger and considerably less mature a cricketer in the period between 2007 and 2008, did not take the 50-overs arena by storm during that initial deployment, something reflected in his career ODI stats thus far of seven scalps at an average of 35.42 (although his economy is a decent enough 4.78).

They are also slightly skewed by the debut success he had against minnows Ireland in Belfast during the 2007 northern hemisphere summer, where he got four for 12 before rather subsiding in the format.

But Philander, now 27, is no longer the raw, slightly gung-ho “kid” he was then: increasing franchise experience and wisdom have seen him blossom not only as a cricketer but as a person, so when he burst onto the Test scene with such amazing aplomb (89 wickets at 17.13 and economy of 2.79 from 16 Tests is a dreamy record to currently sport) he was much more ready than when he had made his early limited-overs appearances for the Proteas.

Of course there are no guarantees that class acts at Test level, whether batsmen or bowlers, necessarily cut it consistently in the one-day environment.

There is a school of thought that on more unresponsive limited-overs tracks a bowler of Philander’s unremarkable pace will be susceptible to batsmen two-stepping out of the crease and driving him lustily over or through the in-field, especially beyond his new-ball spell when the ball is softer and more battered.

That, after all, was a bit of a problem at times in later years for the otherwise wonderfully parsimonious legend Shaun Pollock outside of cloud-covered, seaming environments in ODIs.

Philander has also taken a fair bit of “tap” (economy rate well above eight) in seven Twenty20 internationals, especially against top-tier opponents, although they also came considerably earlier in his now hugely distinguished career.

It is also said with some justification that Philander is a rare, fresh and firing jewel for the pedigreed Test landscape specifically, for the very reason that he isn’t burdened with routine employment on the gruelling broader calendar treadmill that can grind down and also take an injury toll on the most durable of bowlers.

But that argument does lose some of its lustre in cases where, as on Thursday, a South African one-day attack bowls maddeningly too short in UK conditions that tend to cry out for fuller, more probing lengths and you do think to yourself:

“Hmm, would Messrs Dhawan and Sharma have prospered like they did with SuperVern having an early crack at them?”

While Philander may not be the Proteas’ emergency knight in shining armour, for various reasons, over the next couple of weeks, I am among the lobby increasingly believing he is well worth trying out anew, sooner rather than later, outside of his Test forte ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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