Philander is fastest SA bowler to 100 Test wickets
Vernon Philander became the fastest South African to 100 Test wickets, at the Wanderers on Friday, when he had Indian opener Shikhar Dhawan caught at second slip. Jacques Kallis, stationed in the cordon, collected the catch to ensure Philander reached the landmark in his 19th Test, one quicker than his new-ball partner Dale Steyn.
He accounted for Dhawan in typical Philander fashion, getting the batsman to push at a short of a length ball outside offstump, and then celebrated the feat with a tailor-made salute to the dressing-room. First he held up both index fingers and then cupped his hands into a circle twice. He was signaling the number of batsmen he has sent on their way.
Speaking after the day's play, Philander said he hoped to keep his form going for his team. "I was reminded a few times of how close I was [to the landmark], like recently in the UAE. But to me, today was just another game," he said. "Hopefully I can grab a few more sticks in the future for South Africa."
Philander lies joint-sixth on the all-time list of fastest to 100 wickets, behind George Lohmann, who brought up the landmark in 16 Tests, Charlie Turner, Sydney Barnes and Clarrie Grimmet, who did it in 17 Tests, and R Ashwin, who managed it in 18. Philander was also the joint second-fastest to 50 wickets, having achieved that in just seven Tests.
"It's a very important milestone. He has proved he can be successful in all conditions. Now he does not have to prove anything; he has that self-belief," Makhaya Ntini, the former South Africa quick, told ESPNcricinfo.
Apart from his bowling landmark, Philander also scored his third Test half-century in this match, rescuing his tottering side and helping lift them to within 50 of India's first-innings total. All three of his fifties - the other two being against England at Lord's and against Pakistan in Centurion - have come when his team was in a tough spot. Philander said he consciously works on his batting. "I spend a lot of time of my batting. I take great pride in it I enjoy those moments when the pressure is up."
Philander made his Test debut in Cape Town in November 2011 against Australia - the first Test South Africa played under Gary Kirsten's tenure. His took his first wicket in his third over, squaring Phil Hughes up to induce the edge and give Mark Boucher his 500th Test catch.
In that match, Philander finished with eight wickets, including the first of his nine five-wicket hauls. A second five-for in Johannesburg in the following match saw him named Man of the Series in his first outing as a Test cricketer. He followed up with the first of two ten-wicket hauls, against Sri Lanka, in Centurion. His other ten-for came in Hamilton the following March, where Doug Bracewell became his 50th wicket.
At that stage, Philander had only played in South Africa and New Zealand, and some expected things to get much tougher for him in other conditions. In his first two Tests in England, it seemed they had a point. He took just five wickets before surging to seven at Lord's, including a match-winning five-for in the second innings. With that series win, South Africa became the No. 1 ranked team in the world.
Overall, Philander's record is only slightly less impressive on the road than it is at home. Forty-three of his 100 wickets have come in New Zealand, England, Australia and the UAE at an average of 22.00, while the remaining 57 were picked up in South Africa at a touch over 14. His most successful hunting ground is his home venue, Newlands, where he has 30 wickets at an average of just 12.00.
"What's made Vernon so successful is that he is consistent. He bowls good areas all the time, he hardly delivers a bad ball and he moves it just enough. If he keeps going like this he will be at 150 in no time but the real pressure will be for him to get to 390," Ntini, whose Test career ended with him 10 short of 400 wickets, joked. The fastest to 150 wickets in Barnes in 24 Tests, which means Philander will have to take 10 a match to beat that.
That may be a tough ask but Philander has already surprised many. When his Test career began, Philander had the lowest average of all active bowlers on the South African first-class circuit but plenty of doubters who believed he was not quick enough and did not do enough with the ball to make an impact. Nineteen Tests later, not many of them will have that opinion anymore.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent