SA must get Philander firing

2014-06-27 12:18
Vernon Philander (AFP Photo)

Cape Town – The Proteas need to waste little time getting Vernon Philander, a staple member of their seam attack, into his bowling groove for the two-Test series in Sri Lanka.

The Cape Cobras all-rounder, who turned 29 earlier this week, has a big disadvantage against regular scalp-hunting colleagues Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel in that he will have had almost four months of inactivity by the time the tour-proper begins with the three-match one-day international portion next Sunday.

Fortunately he is part of the ODI squad – leaving our shores this weekend – so there are dual reasons for involving him as quickly as possible.

One is that, with the 2015 World Cup in mind, he deserves further opportunities to try to nail down a regular spot in the limited-overs mix: Philander has earned 13 caps at ODI level, yet spread over a period of some six years between 2007 and 2013.

But the Proteas would be well advised to simultaneously exploit the opportunity to bowl him into some sort of rhythm and boost his stamina levels for the Test series, which ought to be regarded as the main business on this venture.

After all, South Africa have a plethora of ODI obligations in the lead-up to the World Cup to be jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand – including playing both those countries away later this year – so the trio of games in the vastly different conditions of Sri Lanka is not exactly critical.

More important for the time being is the new-look Proteas Test team, under the leadership of Hashim Amla and no longer featuring heavyweights Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith, being competitive in a land where they have not tasted success in 21 years; the Test combat starts in Galle on July 16.

Apart from the three ODIs, there is also a warm-up one-day game against a local side in Moratuwa on Thursday.

As usual at this time of year from a South African perspective, the compressed shape of the tour itinerary is less than ideal given domestic winter cobwebs for various players – and Philander is a particularly vulnerable customer given the general principle of fast bowlers relishing “overs under the belt”.

But coach Russell Domingo has admitted that having the ODIs first does mean his crossover players can employ them to sharpen for the Tests.

Hopefully Philander (112 wickets in only 23 Tests at 20.11) will see plenty of action over the course of the four limited-overs matches available before the Tests, which will be against opponents buoyant after their historic series win in England just a couple of days back.

Unlike Steyn and Morkel, who spent April and May playing in the Indian Premier League, Philander does not play that tournament and was last active at competitive level in the third and decisive last Test against Australia at Newlands from March 1-5.

On that occasion his tenacity with the bat in the SA second innings, where he scored 51 not out in two and a half hours, came desperately close to salvaging an unlikely draw and share of the series; instead the Baggy Greens edged it 2-1 and then grabbed back the No 1 world ranking.

Philander has played county cricket previously for three sides – Kent, Middlesex and Somerset – and it is a pity he has not had a handy short-term stint in England this year to benefit his preparedness for the tough ‘Lanka challenge.

But now every chance must be grabbed to get “Super Vern” cobweb-free quickly ...

 *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  vernon philander  |  cricket

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