South Africa in Australia 2012-13

Unsung Philander relishes another crack at Australia

Vernon Philander is least bothered when people still question how he manages to pick up wickets. In Australian conditions, he is likely to be deadlier and silence a few more critics

Firdose Moonda in Sydney

November 1, 2012

Comments: 36 | Text size: A | A

Vernon Philander celebrates Alastair Cook's wicket, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 3rd day, August 4, 2012
Philander: "I just try and play my role in taking those 20 wickets As long as I am doing that, I don't give a hell what people have to say about me" © Getty Images

November 9, 2011. Vernon Philander made his debut against Australia at Newlands. He was given the new ball and took eight wickets, including 5 for 15 in the second innings as Australia were bowled out for 47.

November 9, 2012. Philander will play Australia again at Brisbane. In 12 months, he has taken 63 wickets in 10 Tests and averages 15.96.

Despite his remarkable numbers, in the last year, Philander has been regarded with suspicion from Hamilton to Headingley. In New Zealand, they were too afraid of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel to give much thought to him and in England, they called him nothing more than a county trundler. Both countries changed their minds when he took 21 and 12 wickets respectively in their backyards.

"Stats don't lie," was his comeback. In Australia, he does not need to pull out that line. Here, he is respected, even feared. The Australia batsmen have been victims of him once before and know what he is capable of. His response to that? Nothing.

Philander has learnt to treat criticism and compliments with the same indifference because both can be quite fickle. "I don't really care how people receive me," he said. "For me, it's just to go out there and do my thing. As long as we take 20 wickets per Test, I'm happy. I just try and play my role in taking those 20 wickets As long as I am doing that, I don't give a hell what people have to say about me."

Most cannot understand how and why he takes so many wickets. The destructiveness of a Steyn or Morkel is more obvious - swing and bounce - but with Philander it's far more subtle. There is little flashy about being able to move the ball just enough both ways, certainly nothing as emphatic as stumps splattering or batsmen being hit.

But that's what Philander can do: exploit anything in the surface and expose weakness in the opposition. If they can't figure out how he does that, that's too bad as far as he is concerned. "The longer people keep on harping as to why I take wickets, the better for me. It's going to take them some time to work me out. If people can't work me out, all the better for me," he said.

Batsmen may not know what Philander is all about, but he makes sure to find out everything he can about them. Philander's preparation involves careful strategic planning rather than endless overs in the nets.

He said he bowls between six and eight overs per practice session and then spends time fine-tuning his approach. "When you bowl the first ball in a Test match, you to be ready for it and make sure you've got simple tactics for different batters," he said. In Australia, he suspects he will have to make adjustments to his length, "probably to bowl a bit fuller," and has been working on that.

But there is also an overarching reason that Philander has had so much success. Steyn calls it his "super consistency," and Philander agrees that discipline has brought him enormous rewards. "It's just the control factor. If you land the ball five out of six times in the same area the batters have to make a mistake somewhere along the line. I just keep it really simple and wait for the batters to make errors."

On the seamer-friendly pitches that are expected in Australia, Philander hopes to have even more opportunities to show off that mastery. "Upfront, I like to see guys playing at me with the new ball. It gives us more chances to strike," he said. "It's definitely a plus if you can move it just enough and it catches the edge all the time." In England, he found the edge on many occasions and the ball repeatedly fell short of the slips. That is unlikely to be the case in Australia, where the pitches should have sufficient carry to make Philander a dangerous prospect.

To imagine that Philander could be more devastating than he has already been is difficult but in conditions that may assist him better than any other, it remains possible. Already he has had unprecedented achievement, something he credits with being allowed to do what he does best from the beginning.

When Philander was picked as an opening bowler and Morkel relegated to first change, there was much shaking of heads. Some were of the opinion that Morkel and Steyn remained the best two bowlers in the attack and should share the new ball. Philander defied them but would not have been able to do that had he not been entrusted with the role he was best accustomed to.

"In domestic cricket I'd taken the new ball and if you're going to give a guy a chance you want to give him a chance doing what he's good at," he said. "For me, that's with the new nut and that's exactly what Gary has done, he's given me the new nut and the freedom to perform."

In that space, Philander has already had many important feats and he said his accomplishments occasionally overwhelm him. "Sometimes it does get to you, but I'm the type of guy who goes back and finds time just to reflect on what I've done. I don't let the hype get to me."

And when he does, there's always someone like Gary Kirsten "to bring me back to earth," Philander joked. Kirsten was doing throw-downs on Monday and struck Philander on the shoulder, so hard that he could not bowl on Tuesday and had a swelling. He laughed off the coaches' faux pas as a way of keeping him grounded.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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Posted by Greatest_Game on (November 4, 2012, 8:53 GMT)

@ Meety on (November 03 2012, 22:05 PM GMT) I have no idea whether Philander can keep up the pace he has set. History would teach us that it is unlikely. I figure the odds are against it, but it is not in any way luck that got him those 63 wickets. He has bowled some really fine spells. To keep that up would be somehow superhuman…but life, and cricket, are always full of surprises. Those true, all-time greats always have something unique, something really special, & when he is on song it does sound like a bloody big choir. He does just enough to keep the batter guessing, sucker them into the wrong stroke. Maybe he will be found out - maybe he'll keep em guessing?

Steyn however has proved that he is the real deal. He'll go down as one of the greats. Now we get to see if he can ultimately be said to be one of the all-time greats - the real masters…Wasim, Glen, Curtly, Waquar, Sir Rich…etc. He is close, but he does need more definitively match winning performances to reach that plateau.

Posted by Meety on (November 3, 2012, 22:05 GMT)

@Greatest_Game on (November 03 2012, 20:36 PM GMT) - great start to his career, but he actually did look bog average as his 20 overs were dispatched at 4 rpo. The only good (albeit great) bowler on display in the entire match has been Steyn.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (November 3, 2012, 20:36 GMT)

@ Jono Makim. Saffers grow up playing with the Kookaburra, & use it in all formats. 40 years ago, as a young schoolboy, I opened the bowling with a shiny, red, gold-lettered Kookaburra. That new ball was as hard as a rock and felt really good in the hand, like a missile. When Steyn & Morkel come charging in, they'll have in hand the ball with which they learned cricket - the ball Steyn delights in because twice an over he can "legally try to kill someone with it!" I'd be worried about Steyn too, especially if I had to face him, which I would only do wearing a full suit of armor, footwork be damned!

Posted by Greatest_Game on (November 3, 2012, 20:13 GMT)

@ Hammond - you made similar predictions about SA vs England, the team you supported over your native Australia, the team you claimed had whitewashed everyone over the past few years - conveniently forgetting that Pakistan whitewashed them! You predicted that England would trounce SA, but after England were flattened, including the "most comprehensive defeat in test history," you ate a huuuge slice of humble pie, & started making sensible posts for a while. Now your'e back to baseless predictions.

Cricket basics: Philander is NOT a swing bowler. He bowls seam bolt upright, & moves it both ways off the seam, AFTER it has pitched. He confuses the batsmen, who don't know what to do. Look at Strauss' (the Captain you revered) very last test dismissal. Completely clueless, he left a dead straight medium paced ball and was plumb lbw, never to play again. He was "trundled" right out of test cricket by a "bog average medium pacer," as were 62 other batsmen, in 10 tests @ 19 runs each!

Posted by   on (November 3, 2012, 12:02 GMT)

I think a lot will depend on the batsmen. If they are happy to work him around and don't go playing T20 style shots they should be relatively comfortable with him. I think where the Aussies struggle is against bowlers who reverse the old ball. I'm not sure if Philander does that? Do the Saffers use a kookaburra ball at home? The English bowlers had knowledge on the Kookaburras through Cooley and Saker, but will the Saffers be able to get the same life out of it? I'm more wooried about Steyn's new ball swing and Morne recreating his irresistably bouncy on target spells of fire breathing awesomeness!

Posted by pauln2 on (November 3, 2012, 10:14 GMT)

I've seen Philander live in South Africa and New Zealand, and obviously on TV at other times, and I think he'll do well in Australia. He bowls exactly the same sort of stuff that was so successful for England a couple of years ago; bangs away on the right length and bowls a very tidy line. He nips it both ways, just enough to expose the edges, and he'll find them. His slippers won't see the ball falling short too often. I wouldn't be at all surprised if, at the end of the series, he's the best bowler from either side - remember what Jimmy Anderson did in Aussie a couple of years ago and how he did it. Philander is more than capable of doing exactly the same.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (November 3, 2012, 6:39 GMT)

August 19, 2012. In "The Philander Puzzle," a Cricinfo column, former India Opener Aakash Chopra contrasts Philander's 51 wickets @14.15 in his first 7 matches to only 7 wickets in 5 test inngs in Eng, asking "why isn't the magic working in England?"

That very afternoon, at Lords, in Eng's 2nd inns, Philander opens. Cook is out 2nd ball. His next over Strauss goes 5th ball. Next morning, 3rd ball of his 3rd over he gets Bell. Later, Eng need 51 runs with 2 wickets in hand but Vern has the new ball. Anderson survives Vern's 1st ball lbw appeal then edges safely to leg. Prior takes strike - gone in 2. Finn goes next ball. 5 balls, tail gone, match & series won, name on the honors board. 5 for 30 Ave 6 Econ 2 SR 17.8. SA won by 51 runs. Philander scored 96. The 5 he dismissed took 1 run off him!

10 tests in 3 countries against 4 teams. 63 wickets @ 19.18. Don't underestimate Vern, he's a very smart bowler. Aakash Chopra did, & took a lot of stick for it. He won't do that again.

Posted by subbass on (November 3, 2012, 0:21 GMT)

I must have missed the bit where everyone called Vernon a county trundler when the Saffers toured England. What a ridiculous statement, cricket is a stats game and Philanders are mind blowing. Sure they will probably level out closer to 25 over time but this fella is outstanding and for me the main reason SA now find themselves top of the pile in the Test rankings with a good chance of staying there for a good while.

Posted by Hammond on (November 3, 2012, 0:04 GMT)

Philander will be as good on Aussie wickets as Hoggard was- basically fair to middling. Aussie batsmen will wait for the swing to disappear and then will camp on the short one. It's Morkel and Steyne that will clean up, this bloke will be treated like a bog average medium pacer. If Bedser and Tate couldn't take lots of wickets bowling this type of bowling in Australia, there aint no way this bloke will.

Posted by disco_bob on (November 2, 2012, 23:56 GMT)

I suspect that SA will open with Phil and Morks.

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (November 2, 2012, 20:16 GMT)

Philander's a very promising bowler. I was full of praise for him in the last England series, even though he didn't always pick up many wickets. But stats can lie Vernon! Stats don't always take into account form/consistency. He could just as easily go home wicketless from this series, and still bowl well. Please SA confiscate his chewing gum from him as well! He never stops chewing on the field...

Posted by ObjectiveCricketism on (November 2, 2012, 18:16 GMT)

Shows of humility in interviews do not necessarily mean genuine humility. Most top cricketers privately have a very high opinion of their capabilities. They need to, in order to have self-belief and self-confidence.

Posted by Dashgar on (November 2, 2012, 14:57 GMT)

@r1m2 McGrath was a fair bit quicker than Philander. Most of his career Glenn was mid to high 130s. Philander struggled today (got belted out of the attack by Maxwell at one point). The key in Australia is bowling the right length. He'll have to learn fast or his average is going to skyrocket. Expect Hussey and Ponting to smash him to all parts if he's too short.

Posted by dainel6969 on (November 2, 2012, 13:55 GMT)

I'm still reeling over the fact that Philander has a FC bwl ave of below 20! For a bowler not from the 19th century, thats unheard of! I wish i could say, like we use to in the glory days of AUS cricket, that the Australian summer will truly show his worth, but that just isnt the case anymore :(

Posted by bumsonseats on (November 2, 2012, 13:43 GMT)

me thinks if he bowls on the seamer friendly wickets of SA he will always get wickets. in england were i thought he would have a good series as he is an english type bowler. he did not do as well in england as i thought he would do. he looks as if the wickets in Oz will not suit so perhaps they will use him as a stock seamer to keep down the score, but that job i think is beyond him.

Posted by Marcio on (November 2, 2012, 13:18 GMT)

I'm afraid the author doesn't understand Australian conditions well, nor seam bowling. AUS tracks and climate most definitely will NOT suit Philander more than the wickets/conditions he has been playing on. Quite the reverse, in fact. His job will be to hold up an end on most days. He just doesn't have the pace to be much more than that. His results today pretty much confirmed that. He'll enjoy Brisbane, but only if SA bowl first.

Posted by r1m2 on (November 2, 2012, 13:00 GMT)

We love feeling surprised don't we... McGrath was a way more successful bowler than Gillespie, Lee both of whom were way pacier than him. McGrath used to bowl mid 120s most of the time...and yet bagged wickets by the bunch against all oppositions in any condition.

If you check the stats Morkel to this date has not taken the world by storm...not even close. His record against Australia is very poor. What does it matter if he's got bounce??? He's not good at taking wickets!!! Bounce and scare does not win matches... wickets do... why do we keep talking about some people's wet dreams of Steyn and Morkel opening the bowling? They used to open the bowling before Philander showed up... and the record against good oppoisitions wasn't that wonderful... I think Steyn-Philander makes for a better opening bowling combination.

If we find out that Morkel cannot handle the first-change position then we know he's not very adaptable either. Good bowlers can bowl anytime in any order and take wickets

Posted by   on (November 2, 2012, 12:26 GMT)

He's taken 63 Test wickets at 16 a piece and he's "unsung"? journalists and their adjectives. Pretty hard to be unsung when you are all the cricketing rage.

Posted by   on (November 2, 2012, 12:07 GMT)

@jimmy2s, of course there is no need to be humble, but it definitely helps in appreciation of a sportsman, especially for younger generation to look up to. People who have been even more beastly talented than him in the recent era: Murali, Kallis, Lara, Sachin etc are respected not just for their enormous talents, but also for their humility. You may be right in saying he is a man of few words, but that statement regarding how being in Lanka for the ICC trophy and not winning anything, was insulting for not only ICC and Sanga (the winner), but also disappointing considering he is not a veteran by any means yet. In this article itself, the tone of his comments do not show modesty. Amla, despite having far more experience and perhaps being the most deserving of the award, kept quiet and gave due respect.

Posted by   on (November 2, 2012, 11:55 GMT)

You'll do well to see off the new ball from Morkel & Steyn. But wait, the sting in the tail is Vern's up next. Add in Kallis and, if Tahir gets his radar working, then it's a tough ask for the Aussies, even in their own back yard, to get a Series win.

Posted by applethief on (November 2, 2012, 11:45 GMT)

@Travis Thomas Think yo umay have misunderstood Philander's comments, particularly written as they were without much context. I'm sure he saw himself as a contender for the prize (and probably deserved it too, awards over the last 2 years have been a joke - remember Bishoo? And Ajmal?). Philander's a man of very few words (go check his MoM interviews), he doesn't like to talk or make much of ceremony, he just wants to play cricket, which is probably why schleping out for nothing was a waste of his time. Don't know if I'd call him humble, but when you're that beastly talented, you don't really need to be

Posted by   on (November 2, 2012, 11:04 GMT)

Travis Thomas,I don't know why humility is so loved in sportspersons . Here is an excellent quote,"I cannot agree with those who rank modesty among the virtues. To the logician all things should be seen exactly as they are, and to underestimate one's self is as much a departure from truth as to exaggerate one's own powers." As to Philander,I think he will have a good series.

Posted by Beertjie on (November 2, 2012, 10:38 GMT)

Great comment @BillyCC, but I doubt he'll be that good. It's sometimes the differences among the quicks that make for collective success.

Posted by ObjectiveCricketism on (November 2, 2012, 10:22 GMT)

Vernon Philander clearly understands that in bowling, as in life, less can often be more. Beating the bat by huge margins may look spectacular but it is the small, late movements off a good length that take more wickets. More power to this fine cricketer and may he also shine with the bat.

Posted by jonesy2 on (November 2, 2012, 9:22 GMT)

comments are hilarious. no one with a hint of a clue but very amusing to read nontheless

Posted by   on (November 2, 2012, 8:19 GMT)

Tip for the Aussies- master Philander and you will win the series. From 1 year ago he has turned the Proteas from a very good test side into no 1. On the batting front Hashim Amla has been streets ahead of the others and his continued great form is vital for the Proteas to win the series.

Posted by Ozcricketwriter on (November 2, 2012, 8:06 GMT)

Why is he unsung? He is the world's best test bowler.

Posted by   on (November 2, 2012, 7:50 GMT)

Let the haters hate. Vernon will just keep on taking wickets. In an age where batsmen are taught to chase the ball from the get-go, someone who nips the ball off a dime at above-medium pace will get wickets everywhere, particularly if he can move the ball both ways. People who don't recognize that will continue to underestimate him. Joke's on them.

Posted by Bonehead_maz on (November 2, 2012, 7:40 GMT)

This guy is seriously good. It is of course all about length. Today he didn't get the length consistently (was both sides of it). At the Oval he bowled maybe 1 foot to 18 inches too short and kept beating people rather than getting them out. When he does eventually get slaughtered keeping it on right length (thanks McDermott for reminding world of "right") will he become a McGrath/Ambrose ? Those like they that preferred to back of a length "starve" just showed clearly why the Waqars and (so far) Philanders are so much better.

Posted by   on (November 2, 2012, 7:24 GMT)

Seems to be an excellent player, but not the most humble guy. When he missed out on winning the ICC trophies, he called the journey "a waste of time". Some may argue that he deserved to win, and perhaps rightly so, yet his lack of humility and appreciation for being selected as one of the finest, as well as disrespect for the winner who is one of the biggest ambassadors of the modern game, is something hugely disappointing in a young man. All the greats we have come to love are humble.

Posted by BillyCC on (November 2, 2012, 7:04 GMT)

Geoff Armstrong wrote of McGrath that it was hard to pinpoint what made him great. He was not particularly fast, didn't seam or swing the ball that much, didn't bounce the ball viciously enough etc. The conclusion was that no fast bowler has ever managed to do a little bit of everything and combine it with such deadly accuracy. Philander may be McGrath 2.0.

Posted by HatsforBats on (November 2, 2012, 6:49 GMT)

Can't wait to see Vernon in action at the gabba and the waca. He seems to be in the mold of Stuart Clark, keep hitting the spot and nip it both ways. It's not a complicated game, just difficult.

Posted by LordKratos on (November 2, 2012, 5:52 GMT)

Here's hoping the Wallabies don't get bowled out for 47!

Posted by risimati_l on (November 2, 2012, 5:51 GMT)

Pure Legend in the making love watching him and our Proteas play go get them Vern, they can say what they want no one can stop them but keep getting those wickets and stay a no nonsense player, the article didn't even mention your batting ability as well which is also pretty decent.

Posted by anver777 on (November 2, 2012, 5:28 GMT)

Philander is in good rhythm & I'm sure his bowling will work in Australian conditions along with Steyn & Morne !!!! Prospect of an interesting test series !!!!!

Posted by disco_bob on (November 2, 2012, 5:02 GMT)

The build up to this series is phenomenal. This is getting more column inches than an Ashes build up and best of all there's no trash talking and a lot of mutual respect, as it should be. I sure hope this series lives up to everyone's expectations. I think it will.

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