Colombo - The second-fastest ever to 50 Test wickets, the quickest South African to 100 scalps and now struggling with only ten wickets in his past five Tests…what has happened to the famous Ravensmead Wrecker called Vernon Philander?
Is his star on the wane, or has he just lost the nip and length that has enabled him to take nine five-wicket hauls in his first nineteen Tests for South Africa?
The short answer, according to Justin Kemp, a former South African allrounder, is: nothing.
The supersport.com website reports that Philander is slowly learning the trade of capturing wickets on testing subcontinent surfaces, like past masters Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock did.
Kemp played for the Cape Cobras alongside Philander before the latter was promoted to the SA Test team.
He says he has not detected any change in Philander’s style of bowling or technical deficiencies which contributed to a lean trot lately.
Philander finished with seven wickets during the recent Test series against Australia, and failed to add to his wicket-tally in the first Test against Sri Lanka at the Galle International Stadium.
He was also fined 75% of his match fee for ball-tampering in the first Test in Galle.
Philander only needed seven Tests to take his first 50 wickets, the second-fastest in the history of the game.
He was also the South African that reached the 100-wicket milestone in the least number of Tests (19).
One of Philander’s greatest assets is his ability to pick up the length needed on any pitch to trouble top-order batsmen.
He also nips the ball back into the right-handed batsman and away from him off the seam regularly to trouble world-class players.
Philander produced a sensational five for 30 in the second innings of the third and defining Test against England at Lord’s in London in 2012 to set up South Africa’s 51-run win.
On that occasion, he removed both openers, Alistair Cook and Andrew Strauss, with deliveries that moved back sharply off the seam.
Cook and Strauss were trapped in front.
He also accounted for Matt Prior with a late away-swinger when the dangerous wicketkeeper-batsman’s counter-offensive gave the hosts faint hopes of causing an upset-win.
Kemp said it would have almost taken a miraculous effort to sustain the type of start Philander had to his Test career in which he took five wickets in a Test innings on nine occasions during his first 19 Tests.
"Also, Vernon relies on a bit of nip in the wicket to get reward.
"He is a master on those type of pitches.
"On flat wickets, you might want to face Vernon rather than Morné (Morkel), but on wickets with a bit of nip in it, you might prefer to face Morné and not Vernon.
"The flat wickets on the subcontinent were always going to be Vernon’s greatest test.
"Bowlers like McGrath and Pollock found a way to perform on subcontinent pitches," said Kemp.
"Glenn almost bore a batsman out (by denying him runs and persisting with a probing line and length over after over on the subcontinent)," added Kemp.
One of the nice things about the South African attack, is its variety.
Philander fulfilled the holding role by not giving too much away during the first Test and complemented the wicket-takers, Dale Steyn and Morkel, well, added Kemp.
During the past Test series against Australia, the wickets generally did not offer Philander much nip and movement, figured Kemp.
"It will be interesting to see how Philander’s bowling develops and how he finds a way to get wickets on the subcontinent (like Pollock and McGrath did)."