Cape Town – The Proteas need to waste little time getting
Vernon Philander, a staple member of their seam attack, into his bowling groove
for the two-Test series in Sri Lanka.
The Cape Cobras all-rounder, who turned 29 earlier this
week, has a big disadvantage against regular scalp-hunting colleagues Dale
Steyn and Morne Morkel in that he will have had almost four months of
inactivity by the time the tour-proper begins with the three-match one-day
international portion next Sunday.
Fortunately he is part of the ODI squad – leaving our shores
this weekend – so there are dual reasons for involving him as quickly as
One is that, with the 2015 World Cup in mind, he deserves
further opportunities to try to nail down a regular spot in the limited-overs
mix: Philander has earned 13 caps at ODI level, yet spread over a period of
some six years between 2007 and 2013.
But the Proteas would be well advised to simultaneously
exploit the opportunity to bowl him into some sort of rhythm and boost his
stamina levels for the Test series, which ought to be regarded as the main
business on this venture.
After all, South Africa have a plethora of ODI obligations
in the lead-up to the World Cup to be jointly hosted by Australia and New
Zealand – including playing both those countries away later this year – so the
trio of games in the vastly different conditions of Sri Lanka is not exactly
More important for the time being is the new-look Proteas
Test team, under the leadership of Hashim Amla and no longer featuring
heavyweights Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith, being competitive in a land where
they have not tasted success in 21 years; the Test combat starts in Galle on
Apart from the three ODIs, there is also a warm-up one-day
game against a local side in Moratuwa on Thursday.
As usual at this time of year from a South African
perspective, the compressed shape of the tour itinerary is less than ideal
given domestic winter cobwebs for various players – and Philander is a
particularly vulnerable customer given the general principle of fast bowlers
relishing “overs under the belt”.
But coach Russell Domingo has admitted that having the ODIs
first does mean his crossover players can employ them to sharpen for the Tests.
Hopefully Philander (112 wickets in only 23 Tests at 20.11) will
see plenty of action over the course of the four limited-overs matches
available before the Tests, which will be against opponents buoyant after their
historic series win in England just a couple of days back.
Unlike Steyn and Morkel, who spent April and May playing in
the Indian Premier League, Philander does not play that tournament and was last
active at competitive level in the third and decisive last Test against
Australia at Newlands from March 1-5.
On that occasion his tenacity with the bat in the SA second
innings, where he scored 51 not out in two and a half hours, came desperately
close to salvaging an unlikely draw and share of the series; instead the Baggy
Greens edged it 2-1 and then grabbed back the No 1 world ranking.
Philander has played county cricket previously for three
sides – Kent, Middlesex and Somerset – and it is a pity he has not had a handy short-term
stint in England this year to benefit his preparedness for the tough ‘Lanka
But now every chance must be grabbed to get “Super Vern”
cobweb-free quickly ...
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