Aakash Chopra
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Aakash Chopra looks at various aspects of cricket from a player's perspective

The Philander puzzle

He found overwhelming success in his first seven Tests but is now struggling in England. It's all to do with the nuts and bolts of how he bowls

Aakash Chopra

August 19, 2012

Comments: 93 | Text size: A | A

Vernon Philander became the joint second-fastest to 50 Test scalps, New Zealand v South Africa, 3rd Test, Wellington, 4th day, March 26, 2012
Philander bowls with an upright seam, full and close to the stumps, and his action doesn't give away which way the ball will move after pitching © Getty Images

Fifty one wickets at 14.15 runs per wicket in seven Test matches, against three different opponents. Ten wickets in a match twice, five wickets in an innings six times, and four-fors twice. Vernon Philander has been a phenomenon that has taken Test cricket by storm.

Philander is the second-fastest in Test history to 50 wickets, and those 50 came at the speed at which Usain Bolt runs. It was as if every time Philander bowled an away-going delivery, it found the outside edge of the batsman's bat and then the safe hands of the wicketkeeper or slips. And every time the ball nipped back after pitching, it eluded the bat and either trapped the batsman in front or disturbed the stumps behind him.

So it is surprising that there is nothing really extraordinary about Philander's bowling. He has simply relied on the basics of maintaining a disciplined line and length - a strategy he believes "works anywhere in the world". Surely, though, there must be something that made him so much more successful than most have managed to be at the start of a career? And why isn't the magic working in England at the moment?

This is an attempt to decode the Philander puzzle.

Movement off the surface without any visible hints
Philander looks quite innocuous when compared to his fast bowling colleagues, Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn. He doesn't have the disconcerting bounce that Morkel can achieve, nor does he get the ball to swing prodigiously in the air at high speeds like Steyn does. He's not as tall as Morkel nor does he run in as fast as Steyn.

But Philander compensates for the lack of these natural gifts by getting the ball to dart around after pitching, without giving clues about where it will go.

Thousands of hours of practice hardwire a batsman to look for certain clues in a bowler's action - like the wrist position at the time of release, the position of the seam, and which way the shiny side faces in the air - to predict the ball's behaviour in the air and off the surface. If the ball starts swinging in one direction the moment it leaves the bowler's hand, you can assume with a reasonable degree of confidence that it is unlikely to dart the other way after pitching.

For example, if a bowler bowls a good outswinger, the chances of the delivery coming in to the right-hander after pitching are minimal. Batsmen comfortable against the moving ball have mastered the art of playing in that imaginary second line.

Unfortunately, this theory isn't going to help batsmen facing Philander, because his deliveries rarely move in the air before pitching, especially when the ball is a few overs old. He delivers it with a completely upright seam, and nothing in his wrist position or action betrays his intentions with regard to movement off the surface.

As a batsman, you can only prepare for what you can see, and if the ball hasn't moved an inch before it lands, it's fair to assume it won't do so after pitching. But that isn't always the case with Philander's deliveries, most of which change direction after hitting the surface. This forces the batsman to read him off the pitch. Most batsmen struggle even when reading a spinner off the surface because there is so little time to adjust, so you can imagine their plight against a quicker bowler like Philander.

Would you rather face Steyn, Morkel or Philander? Ten out of ten batsmen will choose Philander over the other two, seven days a week

Teasing and testing line and length
For all the movement he gets off the surface, Philander would be only half the bowler he is if he bowled a few inches left or right of the line he bowls currently. He bowls from fairly close to the stumps and maintains a line consistently on the fourth or fifth stump - a few inches outside off. His length is also a bit fuller than Steyn's and Morkel's, so it not only forces the batsman to get on the front foot, it also ensures that the ball can't be left on bounce - since it is always around knee high. Since the batsman is forced to get on the front foot, there isn't enough time to adjust for lateral movement off the surface.

Lowering the guard
Would you rather face Steyn, Morkel or Philander? Ten out of ten batsmen will choose Philander over the other two, seven days a week. The fact that he has been taking wickets with alarming regularity is unlikely to influence their decision - an irrational one - because batsmen are conditioned to believe that a lot of swing, disconcerting bounce and genuinely fast bowling are more difficult to tackle than subtle movement off the pitch. However, the level of difficulty a bowler poses isn't always directly proportional to the number of wickets he takes. There are lots of bowlers who look very dangerous but don't bowl enough wicket-taking deliveries. It doesn't come as a surprise that most batsmen automatically concentrate harder when facing the likes of Steyn and Morkel, and are happy to switch ends to face Philander instead. If you are happy to face a certain bowler, the odds of lowering your guard against him increase. While Philander's line and length force a batsman to play at almost everything, his pace - or the lack of it, when compared to his bowling partners - makes him the more desirable bowler to face.

For these reasons, he could be a very potent partnership breaker in slightly seamer-friendly conditions. But the first two Test matches in England have exposed him to the thorny side of international cricket. Philander is at his best when the ball zips off the surface, because it reduces the time the batsman has to adjust to the lateral movement. The moist and soft English pitches may have offered him movement, but because they are also slow, England's batsmen have had the much-needed extra time to make the right adjustments.

Unless he makes some adjustments of his own, Philander is likely to struggle in dry subcontinental conditions as well, because those placid tracks won't provide the substantial sideways movement he relies on, and the lack of pace will give the batsman a fraction extra time.

Philander has impressed us with his speed in the 100-metre dash. Now he needs to brace himself for the marathon that is international cricket.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

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Posted by no_second_chance_for_batsman on (August 22, 2012, 2:11 GMT)

Well Akash :-)....Always liked your articles but did not like this one when I read IT few days back...the reason being, when a bowler can bowl like Mcgrath accuracy & he can swing the ball , it does not matter in which conditions he is bowling. The fundamentals & base r strong. Class is permanent & form is temporary as u know. And man this guy can bat & he is cool and confident. If u see Philander is the new guy in playing 11 & what a coincidence, his contribution has helped to remove the CHOKERS word. SA delivered when it matters most. Congrats! to SA. Cheers, kumar

Posted by StoneRose on (August 22, 2012, 0:22 GMT)

I think this is an insightful article and some of the criticism is harsh, although the author does spoil it with hyperbole at the end in terms of some baseless forward looking. I agree with the 3 main points but I would add a forth one that transcends them: Philander bowls AT THE STUMPS. Look at how many deliveries from international (even first class) bowlers hit the stumps. Not as many as you'd think, ruling out bowled and LBW (and, if left correctly, caught). Philander bowls straight, constantly hassling Smith to get a midwicket in. Simples.

Posted by   on (August 21, 2012, 18:30 GMT)

I love Akash Chopra's articles.

It's just like his batting. Lot of time spent at the crease (or at the computer), and end of the day, nothing has been achieved, nothing has changed. The score is the same, the story he tries to tell you is the story you already knew.

Posted by   on (August 21, 2012, 11:32 GMT)

No puzzle. Since Vernon came into th e side against Australia 20 innings ago he has taken 63 wickets . Steyn in same period 48 wickets in 29 overs more and the very unskilled Morne Morkel 38 wickets. You can have your lighting quicks but playing without a highly skilled quickie li8ke Vernon, Pollock , McGrath and Andrew Hall is crazy.

Posted by   on (August 21, 2012, 8:31 GMT)

Well, the writer ought to review write a follow up post then... Anyway, even before this awesome performance by the big vern, I did not agree that Philander struggled in England...

Posted by   on (August 21, 2012, 4:54 GMT)

Hi Aakash, very good assessment, but I guess Philander silent all his critics the way he bowled. The last wicket that he took was not even bowled at 130kph. Pace doesn't matter when the ball is zipping around, you would know that better than me.

Posted by azzaman333 on (August 21, 2012, 2:19 GMT)

Looks like this article jumped the gun. 5-30 in the last innings of the 3rd test, seems like he's more than handy in English conditions.

Posted by   on (August 21, 2012, 0:28 GMT)

Mr Chopra, your assessment of Philander couldn't be more off the mark. As proven today.

Mohammad Asif was almost exactly like Philander in terms of bowling style and the way they get batsmen out, yet he had an incredible record in the subcontinent. I'd bet anything Philander will prove to be just as deadly in those conditions as well.

Posted by Neuen on (August 20, 2012, 20:41 GMT)

Obviously Philander have read this and took some of the tips. He is still in a learning curve and he took what he learned and applied it.

Main thing about the SA bowlers all of them pitched in. If one did not do too well one of the bowlers at change did.

Posted by   on (August 20, 2012, 19:11 GMT)

Mr Chopra, i guess the puzzle has been solved!!! And the verdict is in - VP is a fantastic bowler!! We are too quick to "rush to judgement" on players (either way) and life in general. People were writing the guys off after 2 test matches in England! 2 test matches!!! I guess Mr Chorpa believes he had to get a fiver every match or he is not as good as advertised!! He was probably the unluckiest bowler in this series, if you look at how many times the batsmen played and missed and edges did not carry to the slip fielders!!. Like I said in my post yesterday, VP would have a say in today's play and he did big time!! He is on a hat-trick next test!!

Posted by   on (August 20, 2012, 18:30 GMT)

I think Aakash wasn't really criticising Philander... more like explaining why he was so successful even though he doesn't look that dangerous.

Posted by   on (August 20, 2012, 17:58 GMT)

Philander sees your article, and raises you a five-for.

Posted by Aneesmoha on (August 20, 2012, 17:32 GMT)

Hopefully Mr. Chopra was watching today....

Posted by Greatest_Game on (August 20, 2012, 16:53 GMT)

SA vs Eng at Lords. England's second innings, Morkel bowls the first over, conceding five runs. Philander strikes immediately in the second over, dismissing Cook second ball. His next over Strauss faces him, and is gone fifth ball. Neither scored a run off Philander. He later dismissed Bell who faced 9 balls from Philander, scoring 1 run. 2nd new ball @ 81 overs. Eng need 51 runs, with 2 wickets remaining. This time Steyn bowls the first over, also conceding five runs. Philander then bowls. Anderson faces two balls, taking a run off the second. Prior takes strike and is gone after two balls. Finn comes in and is gone, first ball. In 5 balls Philander has removed the tail. Match over. The five that Philander dismissed scored only one run off him! Philander's figures for the innings - 5 for 30 in 14.5 overs, economy 2.02. His innings bowling average is 6 runs per wicket, and strike rate is 1 wicket per 17.8 balls!! I guess that one could say he was no longer struggling in England!

Posted by gmoturu1 on (August 20, 2012, 16:49 GMT)

12 wickets @ 23.66 is not bad eh

Posted by Percy_Fender on (August 20, 2012, 16:25 GMT)

Just what I said yesterday.When the rest were not getting wickets, I knew Philander will do it. He has finally got the right length for English wickets. England is lucky that there were only three Tests. But I would like to console England by saying that they lost to a team that was always the best in cricket. Even when they were banished from the game for aparthied in 1970. That apart England has a great bench of pace bowlers and young batsmen. I am sure that they will thrash Australia next year in the Ashes.

Posted by   on (August 20, 2012, 16:21 GMT)

Philander is going to be a pain for many batsmen, he just had a 5 wicket haul and clawed that no1 status away from England. So proud to be South African. Watching the match live at 4:20am all the way in New Zealand.

Posted by   on (August 20, 2012, 16:17 GMT)

5 For 30, this guy cant bowl can he?

Posted by Skolla on (August 20, 2012, 16:15 GMT)

Ha ha ha. 5 for. Man-of-the-match. Chop.

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (August 20, 2012, 16:02 GMT)

Yer Philander-doubters, talk nah! Man-of-the-match IMO. What a bowler!

Posted by robheinen on (August 20, 2012, 13:05 GMT)

That's all in the past now...

Posted by   on (August 20, 2012, 13:01 GMT)

Struggling? He's not doing too bad this innings!

Posted by shibuvin on (August 20, 2012, 11:18 GMT)

Mr. Chopra seems like wrting anything comes in his mind. Philander is doing well and he always was............ Right now, he is gonna be the match winner for SA in the current match...........

Posted by just_Test_lover on (August 20, 2012, 10:29 GMT)

Really, his line and length has been superb, Everytime making the batsman play. He may have missed the edge of the bat 100 times. That is cricket and he compliments Steyn and Morkel who are able to be the aggressor.

Now has 3 wickets in the second innings and I fear hes not finished!

Posted by smalishah84 on (August 20, 2012, 10:10 GMT)

A wonderfully well written piece

Posted by ansram on (August 20, 2012, 9:53 GMT)

It is too early to comment on Vernon. He has actually bowled well in England just look at his economy rates. Sometimes good bowling does not show up as wickets, esp with Steyn and Morkel bowling at the other end.

Posted by johnathonjosephs on (August 20, 2012, 6:15 GMT)

The only problem I see with Philander is that he can not get the ball to swing at all. He also does not have that "extra" pace like Steyn. Philander's gift is his knack of bowling a good line and length naturally. Since he does not swing the ball, he relies completely on seaming in/out. Thus, in places like South Africa, West Indies, New Zealand, Philander will have a good record. In Australia (where extra bounce is favored) and England (more swing), it will be harder to get wickets, yet it is important to know that there are few "genuine" Seam Bowlers nowadays. It seems that the emphasis is more on Swing Bowling with high speeds, while the slightly slower Seam Bowlers aren't really talked about that much. Philander might not do that well everywhere, but Seam Bowling can be used even on flat surfaces

Posted by TheJester79 on (August 20, 2012, 6:02 GMT)

@Aakash Chopra. Yes, batsmen would rather face Steyn than Philander, maybe its for that exact reason he is taking wickets (presure from one side equals wickets on the other). That doesnt make him a lesser a bowler, maybe just a little more opportunistic... Besides that, I doubt any team would refuse him if he was up for selection in their side?

Posted by nzaction on (August 20, 2012, 2:27 GMT)

@Nano Technology. I think you hit the nail on the head. You need to look at his previous record in context, both in regards to the opposition and conditions.As much as it pains me, being an N.Z. cricket fan, I'm not sure if N.Z. currently count as "opposition". Doesn't mean that he is necessarily bowling any worse just because his figures are not what they were against mediocre opposition.Having said that, I haven't watched much of this series so am not in the best position to judge his performances. just saying that an average of 28 is not too shabby.

Posted by NanoTechnology on (August 19, 2012, 22:58 GMT)

Good to see the uh… "experts" disagreeing with what I see as very astute piece of journalism. A bowling average of close to 30 for the series, vs sub-20 for his first 50 wickets would clearly suggest that he hasn't enjoyed bowling in England quite as much as South Africa or New Zealand. New Zealand's batsmen were like lambs for the slaughter (in general), and the South African pitches offer that extra inch of "zing" that Chopra refers to. Remember of course that Philander has bowled most of his 1st class career in South Africa. His demolition of England's openers perhaps suggest that he's found that little change that allows him to use his skills to their potential on this pitch. Of course, cricket is also a game of luck. Plenty of bowlers have a game or two where the edges fall short, or bails refuse to move.

Posted by   on (August 19, 2012, 22:27 GMT)

If taking 4 out of 12 wickets and scoring almost 100 runs in a crucial test is struggling I hope to struggle every day.

Posted by Al_Bundy1 on (August 19, 2012, 21:14 GMT)

Totally agree with Selfishkar and Hassaan Yasin - From a population of 1.2 billion, why can't we produce two genuine wicket taking fast bowlers? Why do our selectors like Ishant Sharma so much? ...if a bowler can't take wickets he's useless, it doesn't matter how quick he is.

Posted by nzaction on (August 19, 2012, 20:48 GMT)

As of right now he has taken 9 for 258 against England which is an average of 28.7. Not too shabby for someone supposedly having a poor series.....

Posted by   on (August 19, 2012, 20:10 GMT)

Dont agree with this Article at all.

Posted by Muhtasim13 on (August 19, 2012, 19:36 GMT)

I agree that Philander wasn't at the top of his game in the first 2 Tests, but questioning his bowling abilities because of it is quite insane. At the end of day 4 of the 3rd test, Philander now has 48/2 and 4/2 in his two innings so far. At the end of day 5 he might get a few more wickets. All I can say is that it was really bad timing for this article.

Posted by   on (August 19, 2012, 19:09 GMT)

It seems like Vernon read your article.

Posted by arunrr on (August 19, 2012, 19:01 GMT)

Philander just got both openers late on Day 4 (Lord's; Eng v SA). :-)

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (August 19, 2012, 18:52 GMT)

Aakash, I hope you retract your analysis after what Vernon did to England's openers today in the second innings. Now, that's a WORLD CLASS bowler If I ever saw one. What a spell of hostile, and accurate test match fast bowling. And he could get more wickets on the 5th day against England. I think sometimes his ability as a bowler is overshadowed by his other 2 illustrious team mates Steyn and Morkel. It can be unfair some times if you ask me. But Philander can only get better with age and experience PLUS the man can bat !!

Posted by xrocks on (August 19, 2012, 18:28 GMT)

Philander's first class bowling average is 19.5 after 86 matches with nearly 350 wkts...means his basics are pretty good... of course fast bowlers struggle in sub-continent..but watching him bowl I can see he has the ability to adapt...he keeps everything simple... a bowler with a disciplined line n length will succeed irrespective of the conditions...

Posted by cricketfanindia on (August 19, 2012, 18:12 GMT)

philander is like Stuart Clark. but he bats better too. wrt his seam bowling, he offers a lot of lessons to the likes of Pravin Kumar and most importantly Ishant Sharma. If you see his figures you note how stingy he is with the runs. This is the Shaun Pollock McGrath way. He is still a lively 80. Fleming Bichel and Walker were like this too. It takes good fitness and discipline to do this well. That kind of control is not easy also. It was amazing how he trapped both openers - Strauss let one go. I remember Sachin letting go late of Stuart Clark in Sydney in 08. and his good success with the new ball is amazing. i think Anderson is wonderful as a role model, but Philander is a great prospect for SA. belongs right there with steyn and morkel. he will do well in the subcontinent as the batsmen are now inexperienced. always dangerous with the new ball.

Posted by Selfishkar on (August 19, 2012, 17:59 GMT)

India, a country of 1.2 billion can't produce one Philander. Lets not talk about talent less Sharmas, Ishant and Rohit.

Posted by H_Z_O on (August 19, 2012, 17:26 GMT)

Looks like this article made Philander angry. And you wouldn't like him when he's angry. At least England's batsmen won't.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (August 19, 2012, 17:22 GMT)

I started reading this article during the innings break after SA posted 351. Morkel opens with the new ball, & concedes 5. Philander takes the ball for the second over. 2nd ball, Cook prods a bit hesitantly, ball cuts back in, Cook gone, plumb LBW. As I'm typing, Philander's delivers his 2nd over. Ball 5, an uncertain Strauss decides to leave & shoulders arms. Gone, plumb LBW to a straight ball. Philander's figs: 2 overs, 1 maiden, 1 run, 2 wickets. Both Eng openers gone - both utterly clueless. Could not read him at all! Smells like success to me!

Posted by   on (August 19, 2012, 17:07 GMT)

All those saying bowling is not about taking wickets dont have a damn clue what the game is about...just like batting is about scoring runs no matter how poor the batsman's technique is bowling is also about taking wickets...if a bowler can't take wickets he's useless...doesnt matter if he bowls a perfect line and length...at the end of the day the only thing that counts is scoring runs and taking wickets no matter how they come...I believe what Akash here was pointing out that Philander's honeymoon period is over and now that wickets are hard to come by it'll be interesting to see how he copes with the pressure

Posted by   on (August 19, 2012, 15:53 GMT)

If an article is to be written, it should contain something new or something exciting.We all have seen him bowl before this. One does not have to reiterate the way he bowls and his style is blatantly visible to everyone. So please don't write stuff that ppl already know! Vernon Philander has bowled better than any average bowler in this series. If I was Gary Kirsten, I wouldn't be a least bit worried!

Posted by   on (August 19, 2012, 15:52 GMT)

"Philander struggling in England"? Are you watching the same Test series that the rest of us are watching?

Posted by H_Z_O on (August 19, 2012, 15:51 GMT)

It's also worth noting Michael Hussey's batting average went through a similar transformation. Superhuman starts to a career always end up levelling out to a more "mortal" level, but like Hussey remains a top class batsman, Philander will continue to take wickets if he keeps bowling like he has done so far.

Posted by H_Z_O on (August 19, 2012, 15:48 GMT)

Just to be clear, I wasn't suggesting Philander is inferior in any way to Steyn or Morkel, and certainly not inferior to England's attack. He's just been a bit unlucky that the pitches have been slower and edges haven't carried. England would take him in a heartbeat, especially with his lower order batting too. He's got a better record this series than any England bowler bar Finn. There are only 20 wickets every match, and as much as I'm sure he'd love to be taking more, so long as the team keeps winning, he won't care if Morkel and Steyn get all the plaudits.

Posted by   on (August 19, 2012, 15:22 GMT)

Sorry Aakash, the W column isnt the be all end all of a bowler. 1st innings of this test - Bowled 24 overs for 48 runs. He may not be taking wickets, but he is building up pressure, and Morkel and Steyn capitalise on it on the other end. There is nothing complex about Philander, which is why when i watch him, i feel with every ball, he can take a wicket. Some more time bowling at international level will only benefit him, and as good as he is, that he can get better is a scary prospect for any opposition batsman.

Posted by yescric on (August 19, 2012, 14:54 GMT)

Philander is good but he has limitations like most other bowlers... the problem for philander is he doesn't get that extra bounce that glenn always had... and on the sub-continent conditions you have to have either speed/exploiting reverse swing/bounce as a medium/fast bowler... I would like to know if there is any successful medium/fast bowler without the above qualities and philander misses out on all the above mentioned three qualities... that being said cricket is a funny game... and Philander made up for his bowling with his match changing 60 odd runs in the first innings, which i believe is going to be crucial and as i write he is still hanging on in the second innings...

Posted by   on (August 19, 2012, 14:48 GMT)

I have to agree with the commenters saying that Philander has NOT been bowling badly in England. For example, can you honestly say that Finn bowled better than Philander for his 4 wickets in the first innings of this Test? (To be fair, Finn is bowling pretty well in the second innings). Philander will bowl worse than he has in this series and pick up more wickets. That's the nature of Test cricket. In the meantime, he is keeping things very tight and wearing batsmen down. Steyn and Morkel have benefited from that.

Posted by 777aditya on (August 19, 2012, 14:43 GMT)

Philander bowls good lengths and always that nagging wicket to wicket line, but I genuinely feel Tsotsobe is missing out. Also, de Lange could have been quite handy in English conditions. Some food for thought for Kirsten badshah.

Posted by   on (August 19, 2012, 13:55 GMT)

It is impossible to maintain the level of wicket-taking that VP had achieved in his first seven games. There is no mystery to decode Mr Chopra, he is still bowling very well and has beaten the bat and found the edges on numerous occasions in this series (more than Steyn & Morkel, if you were watching). It is true, batsmen do not like genuine pace but VP's movement will trouble batsmen the world over in all conditions!! What SA has to do is bring the slip fielders closer to the batsmen because the "edges" are not carrying to the slip fieldsmen on the slow tracks that have been prepared by England. He will have a say in the English second inning, you can count on it!!

Posted by azzaman333 on (August 19, 2012, 13:51 GMT)

Sorry, but this article is just silly. It doesn't matter how fast you bowl, if you consistently put it in the right spots you will get success on any wicket. Or have we all forgotten what Glenn McGrath did consistently for over 100 tests all over the world? Hint; it was pitch the ball on a good length on or just outside off, and hit the seam. It sounds very much like Philander has seen just what McGrath did, and is doing his best to replicate it. Force the batsman to play, generate the natural variation off the seam (by keeping it upright), and don't try to experiment too much. Keep things economical, force the batsman to make a mistake.

Posted by   on (August 19, 2012, 13:32 GMT)

He has been better than any of the English bowlers the statistics show it, and has to share 10 wickets with Steyn and Morkel so a five for in every 2nd test is going to be difficult. Rather ponder on your own bowlers ineffectiveness.

Posted by   on (August 19, 2012, 12:35 GMT)

I find it remarkable that people are already questioning Philander's pedigree! In this series, Philander is apparently 'struggling' with an Average of 36 yet that is a better average than any other ENGLISH BOWLER! He's even got the same no. of wickets as Anderson. Even the impressive Steyn and Morkel are averaging 26, 29 respectively. Also by the way, Mr Chopra " placid tracks won't provide the substantial sideways movement he relies on", philander had success in NZ on those so-called placid tracks...Yes, England have quality batsmen and if he fails to run through teams it is not necessarily his fault. He was brilliant yesterday with the new ball as well. people are suddenly alarmed that the 5 wicket hauls per innings have stopped??!!

Posted by H_Z_O on (August 19, 2012, 12:19 GMT)

@cheguramana nonsense. If anything, these pitches have offered more movement than the ones last year, due to an unseasonably wet June and July. The pitches have been slower, though, due to being underprepared, and I think that's why Steyn and Morkel have been more potent than Philander, and why England struggled without Finn. Like the England bowlers, Philander's slower pace means edges tend to fall short of the slips when the wicket's on the slower side. Unlike the England bowlers, though, he's been accurate throughout, maintaining discipline even when going wicketless, and eventually getting rewards for that patience. It's why I feel England have missed Onions this series. IMHO Jimmy-Onions-Finn-Swann is our best attack, as it has the most variety and different kinds of threat. Broad and Bresnan give the team batting depth, but this South African side don't leak easy lower order runs and their batsmen are hard to get out, so picking the bowlers most likely to get wickets is crucial.

Posted by   on (August 19, 2012, 12:02 GMT)

i dont why people are calling him a flop he has been bowling fantastically, just hasnt got the luck, and his economy has been fantastic, just because he did early he isnt going to take a 5ver every test. The pitches have been good batting wickets this test series and he is by far the most econmical south african bowler, when conditions dont suit him thats his role with steyn, morkel and tahir being the aggressive bowlers. South African have set up their bowling unit for the next 3 years, with parnell, tsobetobe, de lange and peterson all backing up for injuries or loss of form

Posted by rahulcricket007 on (August 19, 2012, 11:27 GMT)


Posted by KingOwl on (August 19, 2012, 11:27 GMT)

Great article. Good for the genuine cricket fan to read the finer points. Hope Cricinfo puts out more of this type of article.

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (August 19, 2012, 11:22 GMT)

"Struggling in England"... are you kidding me? Why does EVERYBODY think that just because the numbers in the wickets column aren't as big as expected, bowlers are "struggling"? Bowling is not always about taking wickets! Philander's economy throughout this England series has been phenomenal. This creates pressure on batsmen... Philander may not always pick up the wickets, but his partners at the other end eventually do. England bowlers need to learn from the Philanders and McGraths of the cricketing world.

Posted by bumsonseats on (August 19, 2012, 10:28 GMT)

he bowls on saffer wickets that are prepared for the saffer bowlers. if he bowls on similar he will be the 1st to 500 hes a good line and length bowler with a good strong action. someware like a Mike Hendricks. whos always there or there abouts. he will never get loads of wickets on overseas countries.

Posted by landl47 on (August 19, 2012, 10:27 GMT)

Philander's a useful bowler when he has real strike bowlers alongside him, as he does in SA. His strength is keeping an immaculate line and length and bowling with the seam dead straight, which means the ball can deviate either way on a pitch which gives help. However, he's no more than medium pace (the 'classification' on cricinfo of both VP and Finn as fast-medium is completely misleading- Finn's fast, VP's medium) and once the shine's off the ball he does little with it. He'll be a handy change bowler, keeping the runs down while the quicks recharge and picking up the odd wicket, as he has done in this series. His first 7 tests, against some less-than-great batting, will prove to be the highlight of his career. His true form is what he has shown in England.

Posted by smudgeon on (August 19, 2012, 10:14 GMT)

A victim of his own flying start, huh?

Posted by sameer111111 on (August 19, 2012, 9:34 GMT)

Philander is enjoying the phase which a certain Mendis did at the start of his career. While Philander is certainly a better bowler, he is enjoying the same advantage Asian batsmen do on home conditions. So far he has bowled on the most bowler friendly countries in the world. Once he comes to India, batsmen like Sehwag will have him for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Posted by Hammond on (August 19, 2012, 9:17 GMT)

Shock horror- maybe the English batsman are.. better than the ones he bowled at before? Possible?

Posted by   on (August 19, 2012, 8:40 GMT)

He's not the first fast-medium man to struggle in conditions that should be good for him. I'd postulate that Philander is suffering as Chaminda Vaas did in England. Both Vaas and Philander had success on similar pitches in New Zealand, which I'd put down to the somewhat fragile Kiwi batting on occasion, but the English players are a step up in quality on slower seaming pitches. The next year or two will make for interesting viewing to see if he has the ability to adapt his game.

Posted by ashok16 on (August 19, 2012, 8:39 GMT)

So it means the only way out for VDP is if he bowls faster while retaining his subtle movement? Actually it is quite gutsy of Mr. Chopra to write this article. Cant fault for him for sticking his leg out. He will be proven right if VDP continues to flop in England and in India when he comes next. Or if he succeeds but only by bowling faster. We will see.

Posted by Percy_Fender on (August 19, 2012, 8:36 GMT)

The great George Lohmann and Sid Barnes both of England bowled almost at the same pace as seen from the reports of their time in Wisden. Both of them got their wickets very very quickly. Lohmann got to his 100 in 16 Tests actually despite having not been successful in his first 2 Tests. The thing is that nowadays there are TV cameras, slomo replays etc which actually make any mystery bowler readable for the batsmen. Philander has only in this match got the correct length to bowl to in English conditions. So far the batsmen have read him only gingerly.I expect him to return to his match winning spells in the second innings of this game.

Posted by   on (August 19, 2012, 8:27 GMT)

shame, i think my 1st post got lost.. lol. Correction Mr chopra, Vernon does swing the ball both ways regularly. But his main weapon is however is the movement he gets from seam. what makes him so successful is the fact that he is consistantly bowls a very tight line and length. i think what made him so devastating in his first few tests, was the fact that he was new to the test arena and the Ausies SL and NZ batsman did not show him the neccessary respect. That was probably due to his "lack of pace" compared to Morkel and Steyn. Evidence of Philander-Swingers was seen in NZ when they those tests were played on fairly low/slow tracks. during this series you can see the amount of respect the english batsman show him by his economy-rate. Did you see what happend to Prior yesterday when he tried to force for runs of Verns swing bowling? And the in-swinging ball he bowled to Broad, when he appealed in his first over with the second new ball?

Posted by   on (August 19, 2012, 8:25 GMT)

to be honest philander's 7 wickets at 36 dont tell the story...he just had one off day and that was the first day of the series...79-1 in 27,29-1 in 19,72-2 in 26,26-1 in 6, 48-2 in 24 are no bad figures and he has done really well to dry up the runs at one end and still snatch a few wickets, he has the best economy rate among the bowlers of both teams,you dont expect a guy to take 5 wickets in every match he plays in,do you?he has done the role assigned to him almost to perfection...dont know what this article was about anyway..perhaps a bit analysis on indian bowlers would be of greater interest

Posted by   on (August 19, 2012, 8:24 GMT)

how can a 3rd class batsman like you mr. Aakash chopra comment on one of the emerging bowler of world cricket...i bet he will knocked up your stumps in his single over as many times as he want.

Posted by applethief on (August 19, 2012, 8:16 GMT)

Philander does get the ball to snake around in a tricky way, and has the benefit being able to bowl long spells. He also benefits from the pressure created by Morkel, Steyn & Kallis, which will always help him to take wickets. Interesting point in the article - maybe batsman should play him like a fast spinner? Take an approach like you're facing an Afridi or a T20 spinner firing it in flat. It's a little unfair to say he's not performed in England - he's not bowled badly at all, but suffered from impossibly high standards. Jonesy2's right, his stats were absurd, but it'll be interesting to see how he tours in the sub continent.

Posted by Abnormaldehyde on (August 19, 2012, 8:14 GMT)

can't agree with this article. Philander is still very early stage of his career. Shouldnt be judged how akash did.

Posted by maddinson on (August 19, 2012, 7:41 GMT)

one of the rare poor stuff by Aakash Chopra, too early to conclude about Philander infact if you watch the current series he is one of major threat for Englishmen. He is very tight and induce more edges than any other bowler but due to lack of pace bowl isn't carrying to slips. Philander is perfectly suited to SA line up and one of views that he can be quite successful in subcontinent as there is lack of pace and he is wicket to wicket bowler so he won't concede many runs even not getting wickets.

Posted by Dannymania on (August 19, 2012, 7:22 GMT)

Well well well.The article looks a bit unfair to me.Why do i get the feeling that it was a bit harsh on Philander.I mean,he started his career like no one else starts normally.But he can't just go on like that and finish his career at a bowling average under 15 now can he?!He has taken 7 wickets in this series yet.yes,his bowling average has been bad,at about 36 per wicket.But his economy rate has been 2.39 per over after 106 overs!His economy rate is better than all the other genuine bowlers in the series.That tells me that the batsmen have been extra cautious against him.May be thats why he hasn't been taking that many wickets.but well,in the current match he is looking dangerous and WILL cause problems.we'll see.Big Philander fan here though.the article was nevertheless interesting though.good job Mr Akash.

Posted by GRVJPR on (August 19, 2012, 7:01 GMT)

@sahil Dev Ok, If Indian wikets don't offer much to bowlers, WHY Criticise Indian Bowlers??

Posted by ankitth on (August 19, 2012, 6:38 GMT)

well aakash chopra,i must say you have been given a penny extra to write ill about philander!!!i think you dint notice the sort of bowling he displayed yesyerday,and i am sure,he is equal head and shoulders to both steyn and morkel.he is the perfect mix for the above two giants.it myt be an exaggerated view to compare him to mcgrath,but its tempting me to compare cos of the bowling displays he has done over the years.he is not ajust born kid,he has been under the radar for many a years,he was compared to succeed shaun pollock too!! so aakash,wait for him to succeed and mark my words,he is going to ve a glittering careeer!1

Posted by Percy_Fender on (August 19, 2012, 5:57 GMT)

The desired length on different wickets is a probably a major variable.This desired length at the SCG may vary from what it is at the MCG.It is surprising that in these days of eminent bowling coaches this aspect is probably not getting any emphasised attention.I have watched Philander bowl in most of his first eight Tests. He generally bowls at around 128 kmph and lesser.On occasions he bowls upto 130 kmph. He bowls full length and swings the ball both ways.The essence of his bowling seems to be in deceiving the batsmen on the direction the ball is going to move.Something like the brilliant Mohammed Asif who also bowled at more or less the same pace.Philander's high success rate came against Australians in the 2 Tests and 2 against Sri Lanka at home, 3 Tests against New Zealand away. In the current series against England he has not been as successful.That may be because of the different desired length required in England to soak in the natural movement that is on offer there.

Posted by Force01 on (August 19, 2012, 5:47 GMT)

Brilliant analysis of the intricacies of Philander's success ...but only one paragraph on why Philander is struggling in England...a bit underwhelming

Posted by Riderstorm on (August 19, 2012, 5:45 GMT)

Mr.Aakash Chopra, did you jump the gun too soon, did you? Could've waited for a series or two more to come forth with your analysis.

Posted by IndianInnerEdge on (August 19, 2012, 5:35 GMT)

Fabolous article by Akash, terrific writeup. You & Ed Smith are the true knights in the cricketing blogo-sphere. Next stop-Akash-How about an analysis on on how/why Indian pacemen who start off at 140-145 kmph+, become regular trundlers at mid 120's within 2-3 years of making their debut/50-100 wickets whichever occurs earlier? - No shortage of examples of this uniquely ' indian' phenomenon. "If you are happy to face a certain bowler, the odds of lowering your guard against him increase" - hah - classic :)!

Posted by cheguramana on (August 19, 2012, 5:28 GMT)

Nice article once again, Akash. As usual, your sensible, balanced insights are very welcome. One question : Are the England pitches in the current series against SA been of the same nature as when India visited last year ? Watching on TV, it appears to me the pitches were much greener when India were there. Perhaps the ECB had pitches prepared to blunt the effectiveness of SA bowlers ??

Posted by jonesy2 on (August 19, 2012, 5:23 GMT)

no its siimply because he had the most ridiculous start to a test career ever (literally) and it was never going to be possible to keep that up for longer than he did he and now he is just having decent success which more accurately reflects what sort of bowler he is.

Posted by RyanHarrisGreatCricketer on (August 19, 2012, 4:57 GMT)

aakaash , learn cricket first: subcontinent will actually suit philander. you dont need to swing the ball in asia. Another SEAM (not swing bowler) trent copeland of australia operated at similar pace and troubled sri lanka in sri lanka last year. Batsmen cant just use extra pace against bowlers like philander, so run rate is under control. The simple thing about sa is all 4 bowlers are champions themselves and so when one guy performs it seems that others are struggling. Though he didnt get many wickets in england , philander was unbelievably tight. Also on dry wickets ball cuts off the pitch more unlike on hard bouncy pitches. AUSTRALIA COULD BE PHILANDER'S BIG TEST. Before making comments , get out of misconceptions like :medium pacers can bowl only on green tops.

Posted by   on (August 19, 2012, 4:46 GMT)

Mr chopra, I understand that you have a hunger to write more articles to earn money but please stick to batting where you have small expertise.

How in this world did he get prior out in the first innings of the match? Outswinger! He is a line and length bowler like most indians are and bowls around 82 mph.. He presents the seam and swings the new bowl.

And, most fast bowlers struggle in India or sl, because there is nothing there. He has taken decent and important wickets in this match too. Stop writing articles for the sake of writing and earning money. Please learn something from great people like Harsha who have a great point of view to express. I really like what you write for domestic india though.


Posted by   on (August 19, 2012, 4:45 GMT)

informative article akash..well done..philander may not have had that much wickets to show in this series but still i will rate him as a dangerous bowler for two reasons....first is as akash said..his ability to get movement off the surface and second remains that tight 4th stump line...even in the ongoing tight match..he has conceded runs at the eco of 2 something....so he is actually helping the likes of morkels and steyns to go at the batsman cozt for them runs are difficult to come by from other end too...that creates a lot of pressure in itself

Posted by   on (August 19, 2012, 4:44 GMT)

From this analysis I would assume that Philander would be a success down under later this year!

Posted by KiwiRocker- on (August 19, 2012, 4:36 GMT)

I find it amusing that Akasha Chopra is now decoding Phillander's mysteries. How many tests Askah played? Phillander is a fine bowler who is caught up in law of averages! every sportsman goes through that. Waqar Younis was a good example as he started in a similar fashion ( although he had far more lethal stock of delveries) but over the years, wear and tear of International cricket combined with batsmen's ability to become familair takes over. Phillander should be proud if he ends up with stats like Waqar. Phillander is a breath of fresh air in cricket. Australia has broken fast bowlers who promise a lot but disappear. England has very good but nothing special fast bowlers..Steyn is a true leader of fast bowling in world. Phillander along with Junaid Khan are two very promising fast bowlers! I did not mention India as their fasest bowler Anil Kumble retired some years ago. India's bowling is worse than Kenya, but their batting is also pretty rubbish with non performers like Tendulya!

Posted by Andy1102 on (August 19, 2012, 4:34 GMT)

Excellent analysis Aakash, I thouroughly enjoyed reading this article. I wonder if Philander will be able to increase his speed a little and then start to explore the world of leg cutters for sub contintent conditions? Any of the sub continent fans care to comment?

Posted by sharidas on (August 19, 2012, 4:17 GMT)

Its always nice to read Akash's assessments. We'll have to wait and see how our (Indian) batsmen cope with Philander,though.

Posted by Phat-Boy on (August 19, 2012, 4:10 GMT)

He's taken 7 wickets at 35 - hardly a failure in isolation.

Posted by vatsap on (August 19, 2012, 4:07 GMT)

super analysis. The only other person in recent times who comes closer to Philander was the Aussie Stuart Clark, possibly a bit more on bounce due to his height, but he was able to get the ball to cut both ways. Will be good to see Philander play in India.

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Aakash ChopraClose
Aakash Chopra Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.

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