South Africa in Ireland 2007 June 27, 2007

Philander fills his boots

Vernon Philander is being seen in South African circles as the new Shaun Pollock, and so far he hasn't done too badly in international cricket

Vernon Philander: can he be the next great allrounder for South Africa? © Getty Images
Any promising English allrounder knows about the danger of being tagged the new Ian Botham - or, in modern terms, the new Andrew Flintoff. Now Vernon Philander has been handed an equally large billing after his debut haul of 4 for 12, against Ireland at Stormont. He's being seen in South African circles as the new Shaun Pollock.

As Jacques Kallis admitted "they are big boots to fill", but Philander started with a performance that Pollock would have been proud of, even if the standard of opposition - with no disrespect to Ireland - has to be taken into account. He hit a nagging line and length from the outset, at sharp pace, and struck with his ninth ball in international cricket, claiming two scalps in his first spell before returning to mop up the tail.

What was particularly impressive throughout Philander's spells was his accuracy - which is supported by an economy rate of 2.55 in first-class cricket and 4.79 in one-dayers - and he provided a perfect foil for the more attacking Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn. His final figures were the second-best by a South African on ODI debut, behind Allan Donald's 5 for 29 against India in 1991-92, and the seventh-best for any country. Kallis said the short tour was an ideal chance for youngsters to take their chance and Philander certainly did. It wasn't the worst birthday present he could have had.

At 22, Philander is one of a crop of players South Africa have their eye on for the next four-year cycle leading towards the 2011 World Cup. Pollock won't be around by then and a replacement needs time to find his feet in one of the side's most challenging roles. As Pollock did when he started in 1995, Philander can bat at No. 8 in either form of the game and is a similarly fierce striker of a cricket ball.

Philander could well look back on his week in the laid-back surroundings of Belfast as the time his career really took off

The Ireland players will have had a feeling of 'if only' as Philander collected his haul. He'd been due to play for them in the Friends Provident Trophy this season before a stress fracture of his shins ruled him out. Everything is certainly in working order now and any chance of Ireland getting him back became slimmer with each wicket.

South Africa have another full international season ahead with series against Pakistan, New Zealand and West Indies for starters following the Twenty20 World Championships in September. As with all teams they realise a larger pool of players is required to consistently compete in such a packed calendar. So rather than creating a selection headache, Philander's performance is what they want from the fringe players. "We have always said we want to have a wide base to choose from," said Kallis, "and to see him come in and perform like that was admirable. He's got a bright future ahead of him."

Philander is certainly not short on confidence, listing one of his nicknames as IVA, after a certain great West Indian cricketer, but says he owes his development to Cabe Cobras team-mates Herschelle Gibbs and Ashwell Prince as well as coach Shukri Conrad. "It is great to have players like that around," he told The Cape Argus before leaving for Ireland. "They share with you what they do in times of great pressure in matches. I used to panic in high-stakes situations, now I can stay calm."

That calmness makes him an ideal candidate for the Twenty20 format where his multi-dimensional skills are well suited to the fast-paced game. His domestic Pro20 record stands up fairly strongly and he has been a key part of the Cape Cobras' one-day success.

Tougher challenges lie ahead for Philander - but a tight spell against Sachin Tendulkar on Tuesday showed he won't be fazed - and he could well look back on his week in the laid-back surroundings of Belfast as the time his career really took off. Pollock's boots will take some filling, but Philander seems keen to try them on for size.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer on Cricinfo