Proteas in England
Headingley may suit Philander
Cape Town - Vernon Philander
had a rare, “quiet” outing by his sublime standards over the past few months in South Africa’s first-Test thrashing of England at The Oval.
There is probably a good chance the bustling Cobras seamer will come back much more into his own again in the wickets column as the Proteas try to secure the series - and move to No 1 in the world - in the second encounter at Leeds from Thursday.
The pitch for the opening Test was less than ideal for his brand of bowling, slow and abrasive as it was and with the lion’s share of it played unusually without the aid of cloud cover.
One thing that discerning critics would acknowledge was that under the circumstances Philander - and indeed the other South African bowler a little more inclined toward “medium pace”, veteran Jacques Kallis
- stuck to his guns admirably, still playing his part in the all-important collective pressure-building even as thunderbolts Dale Steyn
and Morné Morkel
did the bulk of the striking.
But Headingley is famous for its aid to the seam trade, whether the exponents are of the genuinely express variety or not, and especially when low clouds install themselves stubbornly as they so often do over the northern county of Yorkshire.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with Philander’s economy, discipline or durability at The Oval, although that was the first of his eventful eight Tests thus far where he has not managed to grab a match haul of five wickets or more - and he probably deserved slightly better than his analysis of two for 108 over the course of England’s two innings.
You would not want to bet with any confidence against the 27-year-old becoming altogether more prolific for scalps once more at Headingley ... perhaps even adding another to his already six-strong haul of five-fors at the highest level.
Needless to say, the long-range weather forecast is at the very least iffy for Leeds from Thursday, with a good chance of “overhead” to keep the seamers who nag away in danger areas constantly interested.
From a bowling point of view, Kallis, admirably competitive in this department to go with his prowess at the crease at The Oval, has fond memories of Headingley: it is where he has recorded both his best innings figures (6/54) and match stats (9/92), admittedly when he was a bit more of a spring chicken in 2003.
South Africa won that Test by 191 runs and can also claim triumph there on the last tour (2008), when they won every bit as convincingly by 10 wickets.
The ground is well known as being a result one: the last draw at Headingley came 13 Tests back, in 1996.
It also has a recent reputation for proving disastrous, or very nearly so, for the team taking first strike there.
Its last Test in 2010 was a neutral one, featuring Pakistan against Australia, when the Pakistanis won by three wickets - primarily because the Baggy Greens were routed for 88 in the first innings in just 33 overs.
In England’s last Test at the venue, during the 2009 Ashes, they were bundled out for 102, in almost exactly as few overs, with Peter Siddle grabbing five for 21.
It must be highly unlikely, then, that the looming Test will boast anything like the kind of freak scorecard posted by South Africa - 637 for two - at The Oval, and it might suit the home nation if the game contains certain low-scoring, lottery-like elements.
But if the Proteas’ four-strong seam line-up (again England are likely to be disadvantaged by only boasting three genuine seamers) fires as a unit and their major batsmen keep their mojo from London, even diehard England enthusiasts may be secretly fearing the series is about to be settled.
Considering the bruising they got in the first Test, it will take a turnaround of seriously inspiring proportions for Andrew Strauss’s side to bounce back with a levelling win.
South Africa may well be required to bat rather deeper than they did in the first Test, where nobody from AB de Villiers downward even got a knock, but it is handy to know that in Jacques Rudolph
, the probable No 6, lies someone with an intimate knowledge of the requirements at the Headingley crease from his successful years with Yorkshire.
Play starts at 12:00 SA time on Thursday.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing