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Earlier in the series, Vernon Philander had had his willingness to work hard on the field questioned by the opposition. On day five in Cape Town, he showed them just how hard he can work, even with bat in hand
Firdose Moonda in Cape Town
March 5, 2014
Australia told Vernon Philander he could not bowl. So he showed them he could bat instead.
In harsher words than this, David Warner had all but called him a trundler who was not interested in performing on tracks that did not offer anything. The Australian opener suggested Philander opted out of the 2012 Adelaide Test because of the placid pitch. In hindsight, he may have been grateful Philander didn't play then, now that he has seen what dealing with him, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis can be like.
When Philander's turn to bat arrived, neither de Villiers nor du Plessis, the two men who had kept Australia at bay in Adelaide and India out at the Wanderers, was still there. JP Duminy, who gave Australia major headaches in Perth and Melbourne in 2008-09 and more recently in Port Elizabeth, was around. There was more than a session left in the day, 36.5 overs, and only three wickets. Australia's "pack of dogs", as du Plessis called them, were sniffing blood.
Philander gave them nothing at first. His defences were strong but they would already have known that. Philander was the last man standing in Centurion and two of his three other Test half-centuries have come in pressure situations. Australia's homework would have told them all about his 61 at Lord's and 59 against India at the Wanderers. They would also have known about his 3,000 first-class runs and that he was initially as a genuine allrounder.
They might have laughed at the last of those when 11 balls into his innings he top-edged Mitchell Johnson over Brad Haddin's head for six. Allrounder or not, he would have to deal with Australia's spearhead, bowling quickly, bowling nastily and bowling better than most bowling he has had to face before.
The very next ball he showed he could. Johnson pitched it up. Philander kept it out. The ball after that, Johnson held it back a touch, Philander pushed it through mid-off and secured his post-tea spot at the crease.
Once he occupied it, he received a welcome that would have rattled most batsmen. Ryan Harris served up a ball that jagged back into him. Instinctively, he shouldered arms. It was a good decision but for a split-second it also seemed a brave decision. Harris may have thought he was getting closer but Philander went on to push him further away.
He ducked under the short balls, he defended solidly, he pushed the ones he could into gaps, he didn't panic when he got beaten. Then he got hit. James Pattinson struck him in the ribs. Philander did not want to show pain but it must have a stung and he rubbed the area. Two balls later, another one swung past his inside edge. Pattinson, hands on head, must have thought he was getting closer. Philander tried to push him further away. He got one away through the covers for four. That over had not caused any damage until Pattinson was incorrectly deemed to have overstepped.
The extra ball was a beamer and it found Philander's glove. The bat went one way, his body went the other and the hurt went straight into his right hand. He could not hide the pain. Philander waited for the physiotherapist and grimaced as the magic spray was generously applied.
Like his now-former captain Graeme Smith, Philander put the sting to one side and carried on. When he defended the next ball, the few people who'd managed to get to Newlands sounded like a full house. There was still 150 balls to go.
Some of those would be against Johnson. One of those Philander would pull through midwicket. He may as well have just said, "I'm not going anywhere." Or he may as well have told JP Duminy that. Just as South Africa were starting to see safety, Duminy picked the wrong shot and played it to where Clarke had put a fielder in the right position. When he realised he'd been caught at leg-slip, Duminy threw his head back in disappointment. Philander did the same.
There was only the tail to go and Philander had to marshall it. In Steyn, he had the man he'd batted with at the Wanderers just three months ago to save a game. Then, they refused runs because they did not want to risk losing. This time they refused them because they did not have to take them. Steyn's hamstring would have been a consideration as well, and so each of them stayed at their end and held the line.
Philander almost let go when beaten by a Johnson delivery that went through everyone, including Haddin. Johnson came closer, Philander pushed him further. Then Johnson came as close as anyone would get to Philander. A snorter which seemed to have hit glove and then shoulder was caught at short leg. Philander got down on his haunches. He was hurt. But he knew he was not out.
He called for the review and and many minutes passed. He received more treatment. The replays showed his hand was off the bat when the ball kissed the glove. Decision overturned. Fight. Steyn had words with one of the Australians. Clarke intervened. The umpires got involved. The last hour had begun.
On they went. Philander and Steyn. The last half an hour. An lbw shout against Philander that was obviously missing leg was reviewed. The pressure built. Almost into the last 15 minutes. Harris was handed the ball.
Steyn knew what he had to do but when the yorker came, he could not do it. The off bail was off. Philander was one team-mate away from defeat.
Morne Morkel defended the first ball but could do nothing against the second. Full, fast and beating the inside edge, he was bowled by the man on one leg. Morkel was planted to his end in disbelief. Philander, at the opposite end, had adopted exactly the same position. Only one of them knew there was absolutely no more he could have done to save this game. It was not Morkel.
Seconds passed and neither of them moved. They left the swirling to Australia, who galloped about the field, whooping. Their joy. South Africa's despair. Frozen in that moment.
Philander broke the ice. He trudged, helmet and bat in one hand, broken heart in the other. He used that hand to reach out to Morkel and offer a consolatory pat on the arm. They walked off together. It was over.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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