New Zealand v South Africa, 2nd Test, Hamilton, 3rd day March 17, 2012

Philander reaps rewards by keeping it simple

Vernon Philander's extraordinary success is due to three key things: consistency, movement and strategic use of his own limitations
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"You again," Vernon Philander said to the reporters waiting for him at the press conference before his Man of the Match award at the second Test. He was already tired of talking then. This time, it was the reporters who thought that as Philander walked into the room, having heard almost everything he has to say already.

After just six Tests, Philander is already a seasoned, wise international cricketer. He has bypassed the wobbly toddler stage, the brooding teenager and the soul-searching young adult phase. Philander has shot straight to the head of the table. The feast he has eaten while sitting there is one that will make bowlers the world over drool.

His 45 wickets from six Tests have given him a chance to become the second fastest cricketer to 50 wickets after Charlie Turner, who achieved his feat in the 1880s. He is third on the list of bowlers to have taken five five-fors in six Tests and has improved his first-class average from 20.2 before he made his Test debut to 18.9 after and he has claimed 57 more wickets in that time, which has spanned just five months. His Test average, of 13.6, is eye-popping. His extraordinary success is not as inexplicable as some would believe and is actually due to three key things: consistency, movement and strategic use of his own limitations.

The number of exceptional balls he bowls outnumbers the poor ones. Short and wide are foreign concepts to him, he also rarely over-pitches and almost never strays onto the pads. Over and over again, he bowls in the channel outside off stump with a discipline that can be compared to the one that runs the North Korean military.

"He's always in that area," Graeme Smith, his Test captain, said. "In my career, the only person who's sort of resembled that was maybe a Glenn McGrath. He was always in that area of uncertainty." Philander has earned the nickname "Vern McGrath" because of his accuracy and said the former Australian seamer is one of the bowlers he has tried to emulate. "It's probably between Glenn McGrath and Polly [Shaun Pollock]. Those are the guys that I try and idolise and the ones I base my game on," Philander said.

Combined with movement, that nagging line is what gets him wickets. Philander can get the ball to nip in back in, like the one that Kruger van Wyk left, expecting it to move the other way and was bowled, or to move away, like the one Kane Williamson poked at to get the outside edge. He can swing the new ball and reverse swing the old one.

What that does, as Ross Taylor explained, is put batsmen in multiple minds about how to play him. "When you can swing it away and reverse it in it does become tough on batsmen to find out where your off stump is," Taylor said. While he had proved himself as menacing with the new ball before this Test, he was to shown his abilities with the older ball. "I'm always going to back my skills to get guys out when the ball does reverse," Philander said.

Best of all, he is able to do all of the above without being one of the quickest bowlers in the world. Philander bowls around the 130 kph mark but that's all he needs to do to take wickets. "He's not quick," Taylor said. "But he's quick enough to hurry you up."

Whether at home, or away, those three tenets will continue to serve Philander like a trusted family recipe serves generations of cooks. He knew it before he left for New Zealand and his performance in Hamilton has confirmed it. "It's obviously satisfying knowing that the same skills that I use back home are also working abroad," Philander said.

Both captains felt the Seddon Park was flat at the start of the game, but Philander was able to get something out of the surface by continuing to hit the deck hard and refusing to veer from his lines. After three seasons of doing it the first-class competition at home, which yielded 94 wickets in total in the two seasons preceding this one, there's no reason to stop. "It's something that I obviously practised and trained for these last three years and I've enhanced those skills and got to understand my body, how my action works, so it's something that I've got used to," he said.

One minor adjustment has been length, which has become a bit shorter on the slower tracks in New Zealand, and the development of a streak of patience on less helpful tracks. "The wicket didn't play that badly," Smith said. "The key was that we were patient, at times, accurate and disciplined," three things which just about sum up Philander's approach to bowling.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • MinusZero on March 19, 2012, 6:22 GMT

    He is amazing, there is no doubt that South Africa's attack is the best of any current team. I am surprised that his most amazing stat - strike rate, is not mentioned. The story made mention of Glenn McGrath, his strike rate was 51.9, Philander's is currently 24.9. If he keeps that up for his whole career, he will break all sorts of records.

  • stormy16 on March 18, 2012, 12:50 GMT

    Vernon is nothing short of a sensation when you consider he is 'outbowling' Steyn, easily the best bowler in the world by a country mile. What's more the quality of his deliveries are unbelievable. As the writer says, he has leaped frogged the todler, tennager, sub adult to burst on the scene as a lethal weapon - I can only think of two others in this mould - Akram and Waquar. Vernon is a totally different bowler but equally effective and most importantly, has total control over his skills. Vernon brings the simplest form of fast bowling without, height, pace or aggression but pure skill and control over the seam presentation. This guy is going to be a treat to watch in England.

  • MrGarreth on March 18, 2012, 8:27 GMT

    @Highflyer_GP absolutely agree. This nonsense of a bowler only being good enough when he gets wickets in the sub-continent is getting tiresome. Its only from the sub-continent fans whose countries produce pitches that make modest batsman such as Suresh Raina look like a superstar. Its a disgrace really. With this attitude of "lets see how the seamer performs on these flat boring wickets" its no wonder India cant produce quality pace bowlers. And I know some of them will bring up Zaheer Khan... well lets remember that he tramsformed into a really good bowler when he spent time in England in their county set up in so-called bowler friendly conditions. Keep your flat wickets India and the rest of the world will continue to laugh at the fact that the closest thing you have to a quality paceman is a guy who is turning 33 this year.

  • on March 18, 2012, 4:25 GMT

    @Xolile,this argument was an olden days fallacy as it is not the amount of swing but the lateness of the movement that causes problems.Philander is a seam bowler primarily at lively pace. Modern thinking has shown that the quicker bowlers actually move the bowl later than medium pacers-Imran Khan,Steyn,Trueman,Roberts,Marshall,Lillee and with the older ball Waqar,Wasim and even Gough have proven this many times over. Barnes was a freak,actually and cut the ball viciously-he could move the ball in and cut away off the pitch to hit the off stump-like Warne but much quicker-he brought it in as well as getting lift off a length-on all pitches. i hope youngsters dont all become line and length merchants but that more express merchants appear.Nothing beats sheer pace with movement. Philander has been brilliant but its early days still.Like Swann has shown that tradional offies have a place so has Vern for mudium pacers.

  • on March 18, 2012, 2:52 GMT

    @Ryan: very well said. I repeat: People who talk about SA bowlers having success in favourable bowling conditions, must then also talk about Kallis achieving a higher batting average than Tendulkar, Ponting, Lara in favourable bowling conditions

  • on March 17, 2012, 23:43 GMT

    People who talk about SA bowlers having success in favourable bowling conditions, must then also talk about Kallis achieving a higher batting average than Tendulkar, Ponting, Lara in favourable bowling conditions

  • rupam1842 on March 17, 2012, 19:08 GMT

    Philander Vs Cook. What a battle it would be. Why can't we make time go faster?

  • Highflyer_GP on March 17, 2012, 18:41 GMT

    Nobody cares how he does in the subcontinent except people from the subcontinent, who don't even have a decent pace bowler let alone 4. When your spinners come crawling out of their holes and put in good performances in the subcontinent, nobody says "let's see how they bowl on greentops". Get over yourselves and acknowledge good talent when it's there.

  • on March 17, 2012, 18:06 GMT

    Vern is remarkably reliable and effective considering that he's a Philander(er). Good job! I hope that you keep that average for another couple of seasons!

  • Kunagpal on March 17, 2012, 16:16 GMT

    lets see how he performs on asian tracks.... then we'll know how good a bowler he really is

  • MinusZero on March 19, 2012, 6:22 GMT

    He is amazing, there is no doubt that South Africa's attack is the best of any current team. I am surprised that his most amazing stat - strike rate, is not mentioned. The story made mention of Glenn McGrath, his strike rate was 51.9, Philander's is currently 24.9. If he keeps that up for his whole career, he will break all sorts of records.

  • stormy16 on March 18, 2012, 12:50 GMT

    Vernon is nothing short of a sensation when you consider he is 'outbowling' Steyn, easily the best bowler in the world by a country mile. What's more the quality of his deliveries are unbelievable. As the writer says, he has leaped frogged the todler, tennager, sub adult to burst on the scene as a lethal weapon - I can only think of two others in this mould - Akram and Waquar. Vernon is a totally different bowler but equally effective and most importantly, has total control over his skills. Vernon brings the simplest form of fast bowling without, height, pace or aggression but pure skill and control over the seam presentation. This guy is going to be a treat to watch in England.

  • MrGarreth on March 18, 2012, 8:27 GMT

    @Highflyer_GP absolutely agree. This nonsense of a bowler only being good enough when he gets wickets in the sub-continent is getting tiresome. Its only from the sub-continent fans whose countries produce pitches that make modest batsman such as Suresh Raina look like a superstar. Its a disgrace really. With this attitude of "lets see how the seamer performs on these flat boring wickets" its no wonder India cant produce quality pace bowlers. And I know some of them will bring up Zaheer Khan... well lets remember that he tramsformed into a really good bowler when he spent time in England in their county set up in so-called bowler friendly conditions. Keep your flat wickets India and the rest of the world will continue to laugh at the fact that the closest thing you have to a quality paceman is a guy who is turning 33 this year.

  • on March 18, 2012, 4:25 GMT

    @Xolile,this argument was an olden days fallacy as it is not the amount of swing but the lateness of the movement that causes problems.Philander is a seam bowler primarily at lively pace. Modern thinking has shown that the quicker bowlers actually move the bowl later than medium pacers-Imran Khan,Steyn,Trueman,Roberts,Marshall,Lillee and with the older ball Waqar,Wasim and even Gough have proven this many times over. Barnes was a freak,actually and cut the ball viciously-he could move the ball in and cut away off the pitch to hit the off stump-like Warne but much quicker-he brought it in as well as getting lift off a length-on all pitches. i hope youngsters dont all become line and length merchants but that more express merchants appear.Nothing beats sheer pace with movement. Philander has been brilliant but its early days still.Like Swann has shown that tradional offies have a place so has Vern for mudium pacers.

  • on March 18, 2012, 2:52 GMT

    @Ryan: very well said. I repeat: People who talk about SA bowlers having success in favourable bowling conditions, must then also talk about Kallis achieving a higher batting average than Tendulkar, Ponting, Lara in favourable bowling conditions

  • on March 17, 2012, 23:43 GMT

    People who talk about SA bowlers having success in favourable bowling conditions, must then also talk about Kallis achieving a higher batting average than Tendulkar, Ponting, Lara in favourable bowling conditions

  • rupam1842 on March 17, 2012, 19:08 GMT

    Philander Vs Cook. What a battle it would be. Why can't we make time go faster?

  • Highflyer_GP on March 17, 2012, 18:41 GMT

    Nobody cares how he does in the subcontinent except people from the subcontinent, who don't even have a decent pace bowler let alone 4. When your spinners come crawling out of their holes and put in good performances in the subcontinent, nobody says "let's see how they bowl on greentops". Get over yourselves and acknowledge good talent when it's there.

  • on March 17, 2012, 18:06 GMT

    Vern is remarkably reliable and effective considering that he's a Philander(er). Good job! I hope that you keep that average for another couple of seasons!

  • Kunagpal on March 17, 2012, 16:16 GMT

    lets see how he performs on asian tracks.... then we'll know how good a bowler he really is

  • JG2704 on March 17, 2012, 15:50 GMT

    Vernon is I believe the real deal and even RandyOz is right that Morkel needs to stay on top form - even if his sensible comment ends up becoming the predictable petty dig at England. As a Somerset fan I'm absolutely delighted that he is starting the English season playing for the Sabres. I would currently rate him as the 2nd best overseas pace bowler in tests and at times he is bowling better than Steyn.Our (English batsmen) - even in their best form - will have their work cut out against Bernon and Dale.

  • JG2704 on March 17, 2012, 15:44 GMT

    @WindiesWillow on (March 17 2012, 07:03 AM GMT) Which Watson are you talking about? I presume you don't mean 30 year old Shane?

  • jonesytoo on March 17, 2012, 15:30 GMT

    Superb performance from South Africa. They are clearly the second best team in the world, way ahead of mediocre teams like Australia who couldn't even beat New Zealand at home.

  • BellCurve on March 17, 2012, 14:10 GMT

    I am somewhat frustrated that no-one tries to work out why Polly, McGrath and Vern McGrath can operate so effectively at the 128km/h to 135km/h range. Research done in the 1980s suggested that balls swing more at lower speeds. If you consider the combined achievements of the aforementioned players those researchers may have been on to something. Moreover, no-one has really ever explained why the enigmatic medium pacers George Lohmann and Sidney Barnes were so successful. If someone does take the time to really look into this we may just see a revival of the art of medium pace bowling. You may even see faster bowlers dropping their speed a bit in order to extract more swing and seam movement.

  • Percy_Fender on March 17, 2012, 12:24 GMT

    The forthcoming series between England and South Africa is indeed worth waiting for. In Steyn,Philander,Morkel and De Lange South Africa have the same battering quality that the Carribeans of the 80s and 90s had.With Philander particularly, I feel England will be shedding its No 1 status earlier than one thought. He is similar to George Lohmann and Sid Barnes , both from England, who bowled what is referred to as medium pace but were the most successful of fast bowlers ever. I think Vernon Philander is going to upstage those two great bowlers if his progress is any indication.In these days when speed has become the benchmark for fast bowlers it is a pleasure to see someone cast in the Magrath mould. I say Magrath only because he is the only name that most people will remember for now. Movement either way from the off stump line. I wish the likes of Vinay Kumar and Irfan Pathan will follow Philander closely and see what they need to do to bowl similarly.

  • FreddyForPrimeMinister on March 17, 2012, 12:04 GMT

    For years I've been promoting the simplicity of the fast bowler's main job - line and length. I never understood the insistence of Duncan Fletcher that all England bowlers should bowl at 90mph - it's just not necessary! As a Lancs fan, I supported Saj Mahmood but though he was capable of bowling the odd great delivery at speed, he was far too wild in his efforts to achieve that pace and thus bowled far too many bad balls that good batsmen could pick off with ease. As Philander suggests, the two best quick bowlers in the past 20 years have arguably been McGrath and Pollock and they rarely bowled above 82mph; neither swung or seamed the ball prodigiously but they were ALWAYS hitting a good length in that corridor of uncertainty - anything else, such as a bouncer, was merely used as a shock delivery. Even the fearsome Curtly Ambrose's greatest weapon was his nagging accuracy. It's great to see someone with the most "basic" of skills being rewarded so richly. Congrats Vern!

  • on March 17, 2012, 11:50 GMT

    He is just amazing. With all due respect to Steyn, who is currently the best and also mine, but he has made Steyn look like a second fiddle to him.

  • Supa_SAFFA on March 17, 2012, 11:01 GMT

    Well done to the team for a great win and to Philander in particular for his spectacular success. The scary thing is that while NZ must be searching for options, SA could field a fairly competitive "B-team" of non-playing Proteas that could theoretically make the jump to the Test First XI: 1.Richard Levi 2.Colin Ingram 3.Ashwell Prince 4.JP Duminy 5.Faf du Plessis 6.Justin Ontong 7.Albie Morkel 8.Thami Tsolekile (w/c) 9.Johan Botha (c) 10.Lonwabo Tsotsobe 11.Marchant de Lange, with David Miller, Wayne Parnell and Robin Petersen making up the rest of the squad. And that's before the C-Team players Pietersen, Strauss, Kieswetter, etc are considered.

  • Tjoeps on March 17, 2012, 10:33 GMT

    Well done Vern... As a Saffer I am really chaft with your performance, nice to see Dale also hitting his straps in this game, as a bouling unit I think the best by some distance in world cricket, Morne did well and the Vittori wicket for Jaques was a beut! If you need to see the Big Five, come and watch our cricket, the best combo in the game, by far! All the best for the last game, it has to be 2-0... Flower Power! Go the Proteas!

  • YashMaster on March 17, 2012, 9:45 GMT

    Man! What a bowler! Just awesome!!! He's a seriously talented bloke, complements Dale really well. Go SA!!!!!

  • jonesy2 on March 17, 2012, 9:35 GMT

    shocking batting from new zealand. infuriating to see this.

  • Narkovian on March 17, 2012, 8:40 GMT

    I saw somewhere that Dion Nash thinks NZ are a batsman short... Make the 5 batsmen short and you'd be nearer the mark.

  • Jwara on March 17, 2012, 8:28 GMT

    Good on ya Vern.. Kiwis are clueless and 2 batsmen short. Hope u will lead us to more success in England & Australia later this year..

  • Captain_Oblivious on March 17, 2012, 8:18 GMT

    Hugely impressed with Philander - he's so accurate, constantly getting it in the corridor, with enough pace and subtle movement to trouble the best. Probably the best bowler in the world at the minute, but of course he needs to maintain this standard over the long-term to be considered a better bowler than Anderson, as well as his fellow countryman Steyn.

    No doubt fans from a certain part of the world will be saying 'just wait till he bowls on the sub.........'

  • bhagat94 on March 17, 2012, 7:50 GMT

    truly a great talent ,under most capable coach we all know gary brought to indian cricket :great work philander all his 45 wickets are taken at pro-bowling conditions he has to prove his metal by showing this performance at the sub continent :from next mcgrath he will be next mitchell johnson:

  • Spelele on March 17, 2012, 7:08 GMT

    Well, this series is turning out exactly as I predicted. The so-called "pace duel" between SA and NZ quicks has proved to be another Kiwi myth. Philander has comprehensively out-bowled Bracewell, and despite Steyn not being at his best, he has still proved to be weigh ahead of Martin. Tahir has also out-bowled Vettori as I predicted. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise that SA were bowled out cheaply in the first innings, otherwise the match might have been delayed unnecessarily. However, having taken so much flak for average batting in the first two matches, I expect SA's batsmen to come out firing in the next Test. This match has shown that SA's bowlers would have been too good for NZ on Day 5 of the previous Test had rain not intervened. Another easy win is on the cards in the last Test.

  • RandyOZ on March 17, 2012, 7:07 GMT

    Absolutely stunning start to his cricket. Making Steyn look second best. With de Lange in the ranks Morkel should be very worried.Philander is s superstar lets hope he stays fit. How diud England let him slip through the ranks?

  • WindiesWillow on March 17, 2012, 7:03 GMT

    When Vernon Philander played his first Test series last year, I thought that the Reliance Rankings gave him too high of a rank being someone who had played a handful of matches. Statistics aside...I am convinced that he is the real deal. There are only a few players that you can look at after a few matches and say that guy is going to be great. Philander is one of those guys along with Kholi, Darren Bravo, Umar Akmal, Watson among the young talent we have today.

  • Lermy on March 17, 2012, 6:37 GMT

    Well done Philander and the rest of the SA attack on absolutely humiliating a hapless NZ outfit. However I wonder whether taking candy from the kiwi babes is the best preparation for the heavyweight fights ahead, i.e. real test cricket against real opposition. NZ must now be ranked third tier at best.

  • johnathonjosephs on March 17, 2012, 6:27 GMT

    Hope he turns out to be a legend. His ball to dismiss Van Wyk in the 2nd innings was unbelievable. Set him up by bowling 5 balls that went away from the batsman and then the last ball it seamed inward to crash into off stump. Sadly, more often than not, people that experience initial success only have good beginnings and tail off. Hope Philander can play for another 10 years

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  • johnathonjosephs on March 17, 2012, 6:27 GMT

    Hope he turns out to be a legend. His ball to dismiss Van Wyk in the 2nd innings was unbelievable. Set him up by bowling 5 balls that went away from the batsman and then the last ball it seamed inward to crash into off stump. Sadly, more often than not, people that experience initial success only have good beginnings and tail off. Hope Philander can play for another 10 years

  • Lermy on March 17, 2012, 6:37 GMT

    Well done Philander and the rest of the SA attack on absolutely humiliating a hapless NZ outfit. However I wonder whether taking candy from the kiwi babes is the best preparation for the heavyweight fights ahead, i.e. real test cricket against real opposition. NZ must now be ranked third tier at best.

  • WindiesWillow on March 17, 2012, 7:03 GMT

    When Vernon Philander played his first Test series last year, I thought that the Reliance Rankings gave him too high of a rank being someone who had played a handful of matches. Statistics aside...I am convinced that he is the real deal. There are only a few players that you can look at after a few matches and say that guy is going to be great. Philander is one of those guys along with Kholi, Darren Bravo, Umar Akmal, Watson among the young talent we have today.

  • RandyOZ on March 17, 2012, 7:07 GMT

    Absolutely stunning start to his cricket. Making Steyn look second best. With de Lange in the ranks Morkel should be very worried.Philander is s superstar lets hope he stays fit. How diud England let him slip through the ranks?

  • Spelele on March 17, 2012, 7:08 GMT

    Well, this series is turning out exactly as I predicted. The so-called "pace duel" between SA and NZ quicks has proved to be another Kiwi myth. Philander has comprehensively out-bowled Bracewell, and despite Steyn not being at his best, he has still proved to be weigh ahead of Martin. Tahir has also out-bowled Vettori as I predicted. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise that SA were bowled out cheaply in the first innings, otherwise the match might have been delayed unnecessarily. However, having taken so much flak for average batting in the first two matches, I expect SA's batsmen to come out firing in the next Test. This match has shown that SA's bowlers would have been too good for NZ on Day 5 of the previous Test had rain not intervened. Another easy win is on the cards in the last Test.

  • bhagat94 on March 17, 2012, 7:50 GMT

    truly a great talent ,under most capable coach we all know gary brought to indian cricket :great work philander all his 45 wickets are taken at pro-bowling conditions he has to prove his metal by showing this performance at the sub continent :from next mcgrath he will be next mitchell johnson:

  • Captain_Oblivious on March 17, 2012, 8:18 GMT

    Hugely impressed with Philander - he's so accurate, constantly getting it in the corridor, with enough pace and subtle movement to trouble the best. Probably the best bowler in the world at the minute, but of course he needs to maintain this standard over the long-term to be considered a better bowler than Anderson, as well as his fellow countryman Steyn.

    No doubt fans from a certain part of the world will be saying 'just wait till he bowls on the sub.........'

  • Jwara on March 17, 2012, 8:28 GMT

    Good on ya Vern.. Kiwis are clueless and 2 batsmen short. Hope u will lead us to more success in England & Australia later this year..

  • Narkovian on March 17, 2012, 8:40 GMT

    I saw somewhere that Dion Nash thinks NZ are a batsman short... Make the 5 batsmen short and you'd be nearer the mark.

  • jonesy2 on March 17, 2012, 9:35 GMT

    shocking batting from new zealand. infuriating to see this.