SA in New Zealand
Now Super Vern to target 100
Vernon Philander (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Typhoon Vernon continues his incredible path of destruction.
South African seamer Vernon Philander greedily dominated the spotlight yet again as his six-wicket haul on day four of the final Test against New Zealand at Wellington on Monday maintained the Proteas’ tour-long stranglehold on the Black Caps.
The host nation managed by one run to stave off the follow-on, and the positive start to their opponents’ second knock by Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen, scoring at precisely five runs to the over in 15 of them before stumps, suggests they do still genuinely fancy turning 1-0 into 2-0 in the series.
Smith is hardly going to hand the New Zealanders the luxury of an achievable target, but at the same time he has enough runs behind him (the Proteas are 274 runs to the good with all wickets intact) to continue the merry old tonk in Tuesday’s first session and then give his own ever-frisky attack an opportunity to strike for a possible victory.
Once again Philander took a Test match - his seventh - by storm, as he earned a second “six for” in as many innings, and remarkable sixth haul of five wickets or more.
A bit like Neal Radford used to do for the famous Transvaal Mean Machine while Sylvester Clarke sent down vicious throat balls from the other end in the old Currie Cup, the medium-fast Philander cashed in with superb skill on the faster men in the armoury doing some key softening up.
Dale Steyn applied constant pressure and saw some chances go down off his admirably economical bowling, whilst Morne Morkel almost certainly put Ross Taylor out of the contest by breaking his forearm and causing an instant egg-like swelling with a brute of a ball.
Not that that should suggest for one second that Philander was somehow “lucky” to earn another bountiful harvest himself: with statistics like his current ones, luck can surely only be a tiny part of it?
The stocky customer from the Tygerberg in the Western Cape now boasts 51 Test wickets at 13.58 after only one bowling innings of his seventh Test, and duly became the joint second-fastest bowler in history with Tom Richardson (1896) to reach 50 scalps.
Charlie Turner (1888) remains top of the pile, having required six Tests.
Such has been the stealth with which he has got there, that people could hardly be blamed if they started to speculate on how quickly Philander might now hit the magical 100 wickets milestone.
Here the record-holder is another cricketer from two centuries back, England’s George Lohmann, who earned the landmark against South Africa in Johannesburg in 1896 - he used up 16 Tests to get there, so Philander could be said to be well on track.
Lohmann was a long-time tuberculosis sufferer who came out to South Africa’s warmer climes during every English winter and eventually died at Worcester in the Boland in 1901.
The fastest bowler to 100 wickets during the era following South Africa’s re-emergence from Test isolation in 1992 has been Pakistan’s off-spinner Saeed Ajmal (19 Tests); he got there in late January this year against England at Abu Dhabi.
Philander also has plenty of potential game-time on his hands to eclipse team-mate Steyn, the fastest South African yet who used up 20 Tests to bring up his century of victims against Bangladesh at Chittagong in February 2008.
Hugh Tayfield and Allan Donald, the next best for our national cause, required 22 Tests each.
Encouraging for Philander’s quest is that if he stays fit, none of the Proteas’ next 11 Tests are scheduled for the Subcontinent, where wickets by pace bowlers are traditionally rather harder to come by.
South Africa’s next challenges are England away (three Tests), Australia away (three), New Zealand again at home (two) and Pakistan at home (three), before they finally go to benign Sri Lankan conditions around July of 2013.
Certainly the Black Caps won’t be especially relishing opposing Philander again as soon as next season, and on enemy soil - he has thus far claimed 21 wickets in the almost-completed series.
Philander is smart and experienced enough to know that cricket is one of the greatest “levelling” games of them all, and that flood can quickly and cruelly become inexplicable drought ... but there’s no harm in wishing this dream spell to continue, is there?*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing