Test bowling winner

The trundler who grabbed the mace

Few thought Vernon Philander could succeed in England the way he had done at home. But at Lord's, with the No. 1 ranking on the line, he did

Firdose Moonda

March 11, 2013

Comments: 3 | Text size: A | A

Vernon Philander leaps in celebration of taking the final wicket, England v South Africa, 3rd Investec Test, Lord's, 5th day, August 20, 2012
Philander: Limited? Think again © PA Photos
Enlarge
Related Links

Best Test bowling performance

Vernon Philander
5 for 30, third Test, Lord's


With 51 wickets from his first seven Tests, Vernon Philander would have been thought to enter the England series as the South African bowler to watch. But he was not.

Local media were cynical about Philander's chances of further success. They thought English conditions would be his undoing, especially as he had only played at home and in New Zealand at that point in his short career.

His discipline outside the off stump and subtle swing were scoffed at. They were skills any village cricketer possessed, they said. They did not expect what they saw as Philander's limited ability to compare to the swing of Dale Steyn and the bounce of Morne Morkel, and thought it would shrink into the shadows of what James Anderson and Stuart Broad would produce.

After the first two Tests it seemed they were right. Philander only managed five wickets at The Oval and Headingley combined and it seemed batsmen had worked him out. As long as they could get into line and show a little more patience than he did, they would be able to deal with him. Philander's powers appeared in decline, his frustration grew, and his impact was minimal.

It took a big occasion at a big venue to revive him. After England managed a slender six-run first-innings lead in what was a must-win match for them at Lord's, South Africa set about building a target. Philander contributed 35 precious runs in addition to the 61 he scored in the first innings and the jokes about him being in the side for his batting began.

He not only helped South Africa set England a target of 346, he almost single-handedly ensured the home side did not get there. The secret to Philander's second-innings performance was that he did not change anything. He depended on the strategies he always relied on to claim wickets, and it worked.

Alastair Cook had been trapped lbw by Philander the match before when he was stuck in the crease as a delivery pitched in line and shaped back in to him. Although he reviewed it then, it was obvious even to the naked eye that it would go on to hit the top of off stump. At Lord's, Cook was dismissed in identical fashion. Philander pitched it up, ensured the ball moved just enough to beat the opener's defensive push and cannon into his front pad. Cook didn't review. He knew it would hit the top of off. He was right.

In his next over Philander showed how he causes indecision in batsmen's minds. Again it was the fuller length, but Andrew Strauss, in his 100th Test, did not know whether the ball would go away from him or come back in. With only seconds to judge, he decided to leave it. Wrong. It held its line and smacked him on the knee roll in front of middle stump.

The jury says

  • "It was the importance of the occasion that made his performance special. The No. 1 and 2 teams were playing. He picked the top batsmen first up and grabbed the initiative. It put England on the back foot right away." Geoff Boycott
  • "From being a lazy trainer for Western Province in 2003-04, the lad from the Cape Flats honed his fitness, skills and attitude to confound Test batsmen to the tune of 74 scalps in only 13 Tests. Another amazing match-winning five-wicket extravaganza at Lord's - dismissing the England openers and Matt Prior, who looked set to steer England to victory, with the second new ball. Vernon is a worthy winner due to his consistency and overall impact on world Test cricket." Peter Kirsten
  • "Vernon Philander found his own unique place in the sun on the most important tour of his career, against a batting line-up coming into its own. Three of England's top four batsmen were gone inside the first 20 overs. Through his control over swing and a relentless attack at the stumps, England and the world were made to experience the edge Philander brought to the South African attack." Sharda Ugra

That was work enough for one afternoon. Philander's burst on the fourth evening ensured England slept uneasy going into the final day of the series. Then he returned to make the next morning just as unpleasant.

He beat Jonathan Trott's bat repeatedly and then turned his attention to Ian Bell. It only took two deliveries to baste the No. 4 before Philander roasted him. He beat him with a short ball, then with one slightly fuller, and then Bell edged the third one to Graeme Smith at slip. At 34 for 3, the target seemed as far away as the summer, which threatened to arrive but barely shone through the rain all series.

A run-out, Trott being dropped at third slip by Jacques Rudolph, a fighting fifty from Jonny Bairstow that ended with Imran Tahir's last Test wicket to date, all set the scene for an almighty fightback from a No. 1 side desperately clinging on to the mace. Matt Prior batted with the tenacity so often associated with wicketkeepers, and had handy contributions from Trott and Broad to aid him.

At tea, the match was still alive. England needed 125 runs in the final session and three wickets in hand. Prior and Graeme Swann had settled well. Eight overs after the interval, they only required 65, although the new ball was looming. Tahir caused a run-out eight balls before the second nut was due, but Prior was still there and Smith was chewing his fingernails in nervousness. He did not take the new ball as soon as it become available, though, allowing Tahir one more over to try and burgle the ninth man.

Eventually Smith had to use the weapon at his disposal, and Steyn bowled a vicious opening over. Philander partnered him, but with none of the same fire and fury. His first delivery seamed away from Anderson, full and a good length, his second the same, and his third moved gently away from Prior. And then he did it again. Prior could not resist the drive and edged to Smith at first slip.

The next ball was Philander's signature delivery: full, seaming away and taking the edge, accounting for Steven Finn. It also gave him his seventh Test five-for and his team the coveted Test mace.

Like the encroaching of the tide on the shoreline, Philander's performances in England gradually got better until he reached full capacity. He is not express pace, neither does he extract much from the surface, but he completes South Africa's attack. His intricate use of movement and unwavering accuracy are the third component in a pack that now has it all, and considering the difference he has made since his debut, there was something fitting about him being the man who took South Africa to No. 1.

Afterwards Philander was asked what he had to say to those who called him nothing more than a county trundler. He leaned forward on his folded arms and shot the questioner a look of pure disgust. "Stats don't lie," he spat out. In his case, they definitely don't.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

RSS Feeds: Firdose Moonda

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by getsetgopk on (March 13, 2013, 9:30 GMT)

Lets put this article and whatever said in it to a simple test and see if it holds. How is Philanders 5 for 30 better than Rahmans 6 for 25? Agreed that Eng were on home turf but he's a swing bowler basically and thats what you get in England, lots of swing and movement. Besides, UAE isn't Pakistan's home, its a neutral venue some 4 hours by plane from Pakistan? UAE pitches aren't even rank turns by any stretch of imagination. And if No1 is being challenged by No2 is a huge thing then how about a No 5 challenging the No 1? It must be out of this world performance by Rahman and should get all the awards out there if we go by that logic. Rahman was actually defending a low target of 142. It is just mind boggling how easily people can push performances from a 'non fashionable' country aside and keep on writing about the game and issuing 'awards'.

Posted by thruthecovers on (March 11, 2013, 21:54 GMT)

Philander may not have been able to replicate his Test performances up untill the Oval and Headingley, but he did nothing different than before nor did batsmen work him out. Nonsense realy. Think of all the play and misses...the edges dropping short. It was business as usual as far as I'm concerned. Bowling with an older ball in the subcontinent might be his undoing but who's to say... In any case, Philander at Seddon Park against the Kiwi's was by far a better spell of bowling. Maybe not a sense of occasion as Boycott put it but he totaly flummoxed Kiwi batsmen that day. They had absolutely no idea if the ball was coming in or seaming away. A couple of them chose wrong only to see their off stump go flying...

Posted by oayaz01 on (March 11, 2013, 17:28 GMT)

Rahman deserved the best bowling award, don't think this was the best spell of the year!

Comments have now been closed for this article

TopTop
Email Feedback Print
Share
E-mail
Feedback
Print
Firdose MoondaClose
News | Features Last 3 days
News | Features Last 3 days
Sponsored Links

Why not you? Read and learn how!