SA in New Zealand

It’s Vernon Phenomenal!

2012-03-17 08:07
Vernon Philander (Gallo)
Cape Town – Vernon Philander only continued his staggering assault on the record books as South Africa muscled their way to a crushing nine-wicket victory over New Zealand in the second Test at Hamilton on Saturday.

The bustling, 26-year-old strike bowler was the main architect of the Proteas’ surge to an unassailable 1-0 lead in the three-match series as they wrapped up the Test before tea on the third day, in-form captain Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla making notably light work of knocking off the target of 101 after the second-over hiccup of Alviro Petersen’s departure.

But Philander’s personal Test-best haul of six for 44 in the largely feeble New Zealand second innings of 168 had made very sure the requirement would be a stress-free one.

It meant a second 10-wicket bundle in only six eventful Tests for him, although the 10/114 analysis this time could not quite match the 10/102 he achieved earlier in his golden summer, against Sri Lanka at Centurion.

Yet he remains very firmly on course to join England’s Tom Richardson – a man who managed his feat in 1896 and died 100 years ago -- as second-fastest bowler in Test history to get to 50 scalps, in seven Tests.

That will occur if he can manage five wickets in the final Test at Wellington’s Basin Reserve from March 23: Philander currently sports 45 at a jaw-dropping average of 13.6.

Australia’s Charlie Turner still stands safely alone as the first and only bowler to reach 50 wickets in six Tests, although he, like Richardson, earned his laurel in the presumably massively different landscape of the late 19th century.

But if Philander can match Richardson and do it in seven, he will hurdle some illustrious names, including West Indies left-arm spin icon Alf Valentine and Australian fast bowlers Terry Alderman and Rodney Hogg (both later to be rebel tourists to our shores) to have required eight Tests.

From a South African landmark perspective, it will require a “slump” of some magnitude by the currently unfailing Cape Cobras man if he is not to eclipse Peter Pollock, our swiftest as things stand to 50 wickets – sealed in his ninth Test.

To leapfrog Pollock, Philander is going to have the luxury of both the Basin Reserve Test, and then almost certainly – assuming he is fit – also the scheduled first Test against England at The Oval in mid-July to snare those five poles.

Coincidentally, this budding new “Glenn McGrath” of the Test scene will have his first stab next week at the very same venue where Maritzburg-born Pollock notched his milestone; he grabbed eight wickets, including a first-knock 6/47, in a drawn 1964 encounter marked by anti-apartheid protesters slightly damaging the pitch before the start.

“It’s coming out well at the moment ... ja, nothing to complain about,” was the understated, initial post-Test assessment of where he’s at in the Test arena from the easy-going if not strikingly eloquent competitor from Ravensmead in Cape Town’s northern suburbs.

Indeed.

As commentator Neil Manthorp noted on Twitter, Philander is in the novel position of actually having improved his first-class average since his introduction to Test cricket against Australia at Newlands in November (and immediate impact as he bagged five for 15 in the Baggy Greens’ infamous second-dig 47 all out).

He averaged around 20 in the first-class arena before that higher-level debut, and the figure has subsequently been reduced to 18.91 (307 wickets).

We might be entitled to joke that he needs a four-dayer on a flat deck beneath the scorching Kimberley sun to get him honest again. Let it immediately be said, though, that the pitch at Seddon Park appeared to hold few real terrors either -- Philander simply produced disciplined and utterly high-quality seam bowling.

There was just enough in it for him to get some out-swing shape against the right-handers off what Barry Richards called his “twenty cent piece” unerring length, and he also produced some bamboozling reverse swing as the ball lost some of its shine.

“He is a champion,” enthused TV commentator and former New Zealand wicketkeeper Ian Smith, “how can one man be that accurate that often?”

Just another feather in Philander’s cap is that he is increasingly joining the genuine assault-and-battery party, too.

Every now and then in this Test he came out of his 132km/h comfort zone – some comfort zone! -- to push the ball through a bit closer to the Steyn-Morkel sort of mark in speed terms, and he is developing a spicy little bouncer at this level, into the bargain.

It almost seems a shame we’ll have to wait several months after the Basin Reserve for likely further Test-match mayhem from Philander ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    vernon philander  |  cape town  |  proteas  |  cricket
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