South Africa v Australia, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 5th day March 5, 2014

Philander fights hard but falls short

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

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 correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Graham on March 8, 2014, 11:40 GMT

    Thosar, At least try and get some accuracy in your posts to make yourself look credible. Trying to help you at least get a shred of credibility but Philander cannot be an overrated Aus bowler because he is SOuth African. Now with you completely getting this fact wrong I dont think anyone is going to worry about what else you write.

  • Dummy4 on March 8, 2014, 9:50 GMT

    Philander needs to be more attacking bowler. But I am happy with his batting. It is surprising that Morne Morkel has forgotten how to bat.

  • Dummy4 on March 7, 2014, 3:05 GMT

    Beautiful piece of cricket writing. Long live excellent cricket journalism!!

  • carl on March 7, 2014, 2:41 GMT

    personally, i think saf suffered post traumatic stress disorder after the first test, johnson created a warzone that has knocked the saf ship off course, hope they call fill the hole in the hull and i think their sail has a few rips in it. i only heard the first test on the radio, im an aust fan, and im still shaking, so what was warnie doin about the place during the third test?

  • Friend on March 7, 2014, 2:41 GMT

    @Hussain Kurawadwala, "Ryan Harris is a hero" Did he act in some Bollywood movie or what? If he is a real hero, why can't he play in India and prove himself once? "I am an Indian", sure you are. We Indians always are over-appreciative of the opposition.

    @Webba84, bowling tail-enders in helpful conditions is no big deal. I don't know how much trouble he has with his body but I think he knows that he will never succeed in Indian conditions and that is why he hasn't toured India. Did your Warner give the same benefit of doubt to Philander? No double standards please. Harris is another over-rated Oz cricketer like Philander.

  • Dummy4 on March 6, 2014, 17:37 GMT

    WarVdm: You are wrong mate, morkel was not toothless, he have hit clarke, johnson and other players multiple times. But what he did wrong was he didn't used full delivery as follow up. But you are spot on about morkel's batting.

  • abhisek on March 6, 2014, 16:51 GMT

    Warner was obviously correct when he said that VP can't bowl on pitches offering no assistance. A bit like R Jadeja/Ashwin who can play the role of a bowlers in suitable pitches and batsman on placid ones. However Aus and especially Warner has again proved that they can walk the talk. A lot of people are going to say that because of Steyn's injury SA lost the match, however opinions were not so forthcoming when the same thing had happened with Aus in Adelaide. I have not seen a single article where the role of Pattinson's injury has been mentioned as a criteria for the drawn test and the subsequent loss. Just like all other times the BEST team won, so stop praising the Saffas who could not win/draw a home series(the 1st team to have this in the last 2 yrs).

  • Dummy4 on March 6, 2014, 15:56 GMT

    Vernon has dragged his length back or rather the ball isnt spiting as it used to which makes his length appear touch short.He thinks too much of himself but does have a fair ability with bat as his first appearance in SA outfit was an allrounder in 2007.Frankly I think the next captain should demand more from Vernon.He should bowl long spells and allow Morkel and Steyn to rotate.Not meaning here he should hold an end , but rather should bowl 7-8 over spells tight incisve ,testing and teasing batsmen.And SA need a spinner asap.Simon Harmer looks alright and should definitely play and Phangiso can do the job in limited overs.

  • Dummy4 on March 6, 2014, 13:58 GMT

    A very impressive test with the bat from him but I think the all rounder tag is a bit optimistic myself. He is more like Johnson and Pattinson, a very handy 8 or 9 batsman who will average in the 20s.

  • Imad on March 6, 2014, 13:19 GMT

    People love to come out with excuses. Yup hats off to Philander - excellent cricketer. He showed more guts when batting then most of the other SA batsmen. Guts when it mattered - when you are playing against the best - and let's be honest apart from SA and Australia there aren't any other teams whose quick bowlers really compare. With regards to his bowling and the records - please tell me how many wickets has he taken against teams like Australia and England? Let's also judge that against the top batting teams - not teams like India playing outside of the sub-continent or NZ. Additionally one factor people forget is that he is bowling with people like Steyn and Morkel - bowlers who would have played in any era and could probably be named up there amongst a great pair of bowlers. Therefore, when the opposition face SA which of these bowlers are they likely to go after and take risks leading to their dismissals. Also, people like Steyn take wickets in all conditions.