Proteas

Philander: Trustier than porcelain...

2017-07-27 22:00
Vernon Philander (AP)

Cape Town - Someone suggested he was a standout “boweler” on the day.

Many more would have understood the deliberate, minor spelling error.

Vernon Philander, firm in his conviction even if certain aspects of his constitution were looser, led the Proteas’ assault on rain-curtailed day one of the third Test against England at The Oval on Thursday.

Scorecard: England v SA, third Test

Despite the impediment of an upset stomach, the ever-probing seamer outshone his bowling colleagues as South Africa kept the host nation acceptably in check after Joe Root had won the toss.

If Philander was pretty easy to pinpoint as the fielding team’s most dangerous and consistent bowling customer, England’s progress to 171 for four (only 59 overs were possible) also sported a lopsided reliance on one figure, their seasoned opener and former captain Alastair Cook.

Hardly helped by the stop-start nature of the day’s play - something that may have aided in some respects Philander’s comfort levels, as a product made famous by Armitage Shanks was a necessary ally at times - the tall, stoical left-hander nevertheless kept out a multitude of devilish deliveries en route to his unbeaten 82.

This was admittedly the kind of helpful surface Philander would happily cart around the planet with him in his luggage, even if former national coach Eric Simons also ventured supportively in the SuperSport studio: “When conditions suit him, I don’t think there’s a better bowler in the world at exploiting them.”

Arguably the key development of the day, given the circumstances in the middle, was that the Cape Cobras man was curtailed to only four overs in the first session by his ailment.

Had Philander, who has been in both penetrative and parsimonious form throughout the series thus far, been able to get stuck into his task more actively in that pre-lunch period, England might just have found themselves in considerably greater peril at early stumps than their eventually borderline-par effort.

Even in that limited initial spell, he did account for the low-on-confidence, especially static-looking Keaton Jennings for a duck, and later bagged an altogether bigger ‘un as his perseverance induced Root to nick behind, where Quinton de Kock took an excellent catch to his right after his first instincts had drawn him a bit the other way.

For much of the day, Philander barely leaked - any porousness was likelier in non-cricketing areas - runs at more than one to the over, hence his analysis at the close of 12-5-17-2.

It was a blessing considering that others in the frontline bowling arsenal showed just a suspicion at times of rust coatings, the product of (debatably) no competitive cricket in the 10 days between the rousing triumph at Trent Bridge and this follow-up fixture.

That said, all of Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada and Chris Morris also had no shortage of luckless moments, and the back-from-suspension Rabada undid SA-educated Test debutant Dawid Malan with the kind of yorker a certain Waqar Younis, now well away from harm’s main drag at age 45, would have been seriously chuffed with.

During the afternoon play, commentator and former England captain Nasser Hussain added to the laurels for Philander after a statistic was flashed up, showing that as many as 67 percent of balls sent down to left-handers by the feisty medium-fast bowler in the series to that juncture had pitched in line with the stumps.

“There aren’t any superior to Philander operating to left-handers in world cricket,” suggested Hussain, who was also full of admiration for his resolve even as he clearly felt off-colour.

Pointing out that Philander’s condition was not something akin to a minor injury you could keep at bay with a pain-killer, he added thoughtfully, albeit something most of us already acutely know: “You’re either on the toilet or you’re not on the toilet.”

Nudging the theme slightly away from lavatorial matters, co-commentator David Lloyd said he felt Philander’s “big plus” was how close he routinely gets to the umpire when he delivers the ball.

An uninterrupted second day - though not a massively promising prospect, apparently - would be a welcome one for the sake of the intriguing series, and possibly even a slightly ahead-of-schedule “moving” one, as they say.

South Africans, meanwhile, will wish that Philander’s only movements on Friday are off the pitch or through the air...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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