SA in New Zealand

Vernon’s head start on Glenn

2012-03-19 12:57
Vernon Philander (Gallo)

Cape Town - Whether or not their careers in the longer-term will truly merit comparison with each other, perceived similarities between Proteas bowling sensation Vernon Philander and Australian great Glenn McGrath keep being highlighted.

It is an inevitable consequence not only of Philander’s rousing success in the wickets column after only six Test matches, but also of the way he applies ceaseless pressure, McGrath-like, through his exemplary accuracy and creation of doubt in batsmen’s minds.

It doesn’t need statisticians and crusty cricket critics to point out to you that short-term comparisons can be odious, given that overall careers may eventually tell notably different stories.

Just for one thing, Philander’s fledgling career in the five-day game spans a few months at this stage; McGrath was a formidable competitor for the Baggy Greens over a period of some 14 years between 1993 and 2007, and retired only a month short of his 37th birthday.

But it is irresistible, nevertheless, to weigh them up head to head after six Tests each, following Philander’s latest stellar showing (match figures 10/114) in the second Test against New Zealand at Hamilton.

At least one big difference quickly becomes apparent: like so many youngsters starting out for their country, McGrath didn’t immediately take the world by storm in the manner Philander has.

“Pigeon” produced only 14 wickets in that period, with a best of three for 65 against South Africa, coincidentally, at Newlands in March 1994.

It was not until his 10th Test, against West Indies in their second innings in Bridgetown, that he experienced his first “five-for” (5/68).

In his own first six Tests, Cape Cobras star Philander has scooped an incredible 45 wickets at an average of 13.60, including no fewer than five five-wicket hauls and two 10-wicket match hauls already.

The last-named statistic puts him only one behind McGrath, who a little surprisingly got only three 10-scalp hauls in a Test match throughout his 124-Test career.

Keep in mind, though, that McGrath’s Test years corresponded pretty much in entirety with the presence in the same team of leg-spin maestro Shane Warne, who was not averse to ripping through sides with ridiculous ease himself at times.

But he did earn eight wickets in a single innings twice (best 8/24 against Pakistan at Perth) – Philander’s best thus far is his 6/44 in New Zealand’s second innings in the most recent Test at Seddon Park.

Something sobering to chew on for Philander is that he will do exceedingly well to match or eclipse McGrath’s overall Test tally of 563 wickets (the fourth best ever) at 21.64 and economy rate of 2.49.

A drawback he has is that McGrath launched his Test career aged 23; Philander has earned his first recognition in the format at 26.

Also to bear in mind is that Philander has only been exposed to three Test opponents thus far – Australia, Sri Lanka and now New Zealand. The flatter, more challenging pitches of the Subcontinent, for example, still lie ahead.

There is also no certainty yet as to whether Philander’s riotous success in Tests will see him restored to one-day international cricket more routinely again; he has been rather more tentative in this arena since his debut some five years ago and sports seven wickets at 35.42 from eight appearances.

McGrath played 250 ODIs and scooped 381 wickets at 22.02.

In physical terms McGrath and Philander are streets apart; McGrath was tall, almost scrawny in his early years and languid, whilst Philander is shorter, stockier and more bustling in his action.

But as long as he keeps dominating Test matches in the extraordinary way he has thus far – or even to a slightly smaller extent! – Philander will keep pundits interested in weighing him up against one Glenn Donald McGrath, you can be sure ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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