South Africa v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Cape Town, 4th day February 18, 2013

Smith wants Philander to boost pace

Vernon Philander's rise since his Test debut has been astonishing. His captain, though, feels an extra yard of pace will improve his old-ball spells
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There is a certain look of disbelief that passes over a Captonian's face if they are told something in their city could improve. Who can blame them? The jewel of Africa seems perfectly polished in every way with a sea as azure as the skies above it and plenty to suit all tastes.

The same incredulity was felt by those in the presence of Graeme Smith when he mentioned after the Newlands Test he believes Vernon Philander could get better. Philander was not named Man of the Match despite his nine wickets because Robin Peterson's 84 was the real difference between the two sides but it would have been a tough decision given Philander's feat.

He claimed his ninth five-wicket haul in just his 15th Test. It was also his fourth at Newlands and took his total tally of Test wickets to 87. His wickets per Test sit at 5.8 (his new-ball partner Dale Steyn's are at 5.1) and his average remains a staggering 16.81, statistically making him the most dangerous bowler on the international circuit. Of all current cricketers, Philander has the lowest average by some distance. Steyn is next with an average of 22.68.

If Philander gets any better, batsmen will stand even less of a chance than they do against South Africa now and Smith warned that is possible he will. "Vernon will be the first to admit that he is still a work in progress," Smith said. "He would like to see his pace up. His skill factor is at a very high level and his seam action is unmatched. He is like the seam version of Saeed Ajmal. But if he can pick up a little bit of pace, his old ball spells will get better. His new ball spells are already so effective and if he can get the old ones to the same level…"

When Philander broke onto the scene in 2007 the main concern was that he as too much of a trundler to cut it. He rarely goes beyond 135 kph although he is a major threat despite that. Philander's danger is in the subtlety. Like Ajmal, batsmen are unsure what the ball is going to do when it comes out of the hand.

Philander's secret is not prodigious swing as he only moves the ball a few centimetres but because he can do it both ways, it creates uncertainty. Most of his wickets result from edges because batsmen are not sure whether to go forward or back to him and they are often found out on the drive.

With the new ball, his seam movement is more pronounced as expected and there were some concerns during this series that South Africa lacked the ability to attack with the old ball. Philander proved that wrong with his second-innings burst that was aided by poor shot selection from the Pakistan middle order. Philander showed he can still make the ball talk later in the match.

"We knew an old ball spell could win us the Test match", Smith said. "When we are able to control the run-rate and then frustrate them, we thought if we could make the old ball work for us, we'd be able to get close to dismissing them and having a chaseable target."

Creating something even where conditions don't suit is what has always been seen as Philander's challenge. So far, he has been able to succeed at home, in England, New Zealand and Australia but the subcontinent remains his biggest test. South Africa's next Test series will be played in such conditions in the United Arab Emirates against Pakistan and it's there that Philander could claim his 100th scalp, unless he manages 13 wickets at Centurion starting Friday.

It also means that Philander will probably not become the fastest to 100 Test wickets because George Lohmann holds the record, having achieved it in 16 matches. SuperSport Park will be Philander's 16th. He is, however, in line to become the fastest South African to the mark.

Had injuries not kept him out of three matches he could have played in, Philander may have had his 100 haul already. Those niggles are another source of concern. Three Tests after making his first appearance, Philander picked up a knee problem that ruled him out of the 2011 Boxing Day Test against Sri Lanka. Marchant de Lange replaced him and became the year's most successful debutant with 7 for 81 but has since had stress fractures that kept him out of action for most of the season.

In November 2012 in Australia, Philander woke up with back spasms on the morning of the Adelaide Test and Rory Kleinveldt replaced him at the 11th hour. It allowed Kleinveldt, who opens the bowling with Philander for their franchise, the Cobras, to redeem himself from a poor first outing in Brisbane and to show his own skills. Kleinveldt also stood in for Philander in Port Elizabeth against New Zealand in January when a hamstring injury ruled Philander out.

Although Philander has recovered from the hamstring problem, it has been described by the team manager Mohammed Moosajee, who is also a medical doctor, as chronic. Philander will not be managed in the same Jacques Kallis is - where his quota of overs in monitored - but his participation domestically is looked at as one way of keeping a handle on the problem. Given Philander's value to the national team, it is not a problem anyone will complain about too much.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • wellrounded87 on February 21, 2013, 5:58 GMT

    This guy is a phenominal bowler. Love watching him bowl. Seems the only way to be effective against him is survive the new ball which is a lot easier said than done especially in friendly conditions.

    As for all the talk of Aus bowlers vs SA bowlers... as an Aussie i think it's pretty clear SA bowlers are the creme of the crop. We have a good attack at the moment with a lot of depth. But in reality our only two bowlers who look like they might be up to the standards of Steyn and Philander are the two most injury prone in Cummins and Pattinson. Starc is good but he's expensive and wayward, much like MJ in his early days. Though i think MJ was much more devastating than Starc has been, see his performance in SA a few years ago for reference.

    All in all i think VP is the best pace bowler in the world right now and Steyn is sitting at number 2 with a big gap to third.

  • Greatest_Game on February 20, 2013, 22:50 GMT

    @ jonesy2 claims - with a straight face - that "the worlds best and most sporting surface (is) the gabba." The track that SA played on sounds a bit like a Beatles album - Gabba Road! A dead strip better used for landing cargo planes than playing cricket.

    Oz have slid so badly that they won't prepare sporting wickets anymore as they are scared of any effective pace attack. Known as the "Dhoni Defense," it is is breaking down their already fragile bowlers. Oz could not field the same attack in three tests. The only constant was the raging Lyon!

    Sad really. Once a cricketing superpower, they are now reduced to an endless rotation of gimpy bowlers, debutant batsmen & the tactically challenged Clarke. After SA retired Ponting, it is little wonder that Hussey threw in the towel. Face it, what cricketer wants to play in a different team every test? It's so bad that the discarded but now retreaded Johnson is their lead bowler, & that makes even Broad look good Ooooh, what a long slide down!

  • Greatest_Game on February 20, 2013, 22:17 GMT

    @ zenboomerang fiercely criticises Firdose Moonda, quoting stats of Philander & Kleinvedt to refute her statements, & then says that "Steyn, Morkel & Kallis all have much worse averages in Oz." Much worse than what he does not say but lets take a look:

    In 2008, min 10 wickets: Steyn 18 wickets, ave 26.26, SR 43.7. Siddle,13 wickets, ave 27.38, SR 67.2. Johnson, 17 wickets, ave 25.88, SR 56.3. Steyn - most wickets, best SR, & 0.5 ave more than Johnson. Morkel sucked, 9 @ 42.66.

    In 2012: Morkel 14 wickets, ave 28.5, SR 46.7. Steyn, 12 wickets, ave 30.83, SR 54.7. Lyon 12 wickets, ave 40.5, SR 89. Siddle 9 wickets, ave 38, SR 77.8. Only Lyon lasted 3 tests - the other Oz bowlers could not handle it, but in Perth the figs were: Steyn 7/112 ave 16, Philander 4/96 ave 24, Starc 8/209 av 26.125, Johnson 6/164 ave 27.3, & Peterson 6/171 ave 28.5.

    Steyn, in Oz, has better averages THAN ANY OZ BOWLER. In 2012, Morkel was the top bowler, Steyn 2nd. I guess that's why SA WON BOTH SERIES.

  • barnold on February 20, 2013, 16:52 GMT

    Interesting that when analyzing fast bowlers people always use their performance on pitches that are not conducive to their skills ( ie sub continent) as a yardstick, instead of looking at their performance on pitches that suit them.

    Why dont we apply the same criteria to spinners on pitches that dont support spin. As an example look at these stats at WACA in perth for M Muralitharan (SL) 1995-1995 1 1 54.0 3 224 2 2/224 2/224 112.00 4.14 162.0 0 0

    Vernon is a new ball specialist, on a seaming pitch,and, based on his current stats, one of the best of all time. He is part of a high quality attack as well and has been head and shoulders above anyone else in those conditions, how come nobody else achieved those numbers.

    Big Verne has the ability destroy a team in a single spell, Ive seen him do it many times. lets appreciate him for what he brings to the table and not try look for the negatives

  • ABLcric on February 20, 2013, 13:30 GMT

    Fast bowling is all about rhythm. Natural rhythm. At the moment, VP is performing extraordinary. Please do not tamper with VP's rhythm.

  • dummy4fb on February 20, 2013, 8:53 GMT

    All other countries fielders, batsmen and bowlers are better than our's......I'm happy with this as long as we win you guys you can claim whatever you want to to make you feel better. We won in aus x 2. Thats the most enjoyable feeling.

  • Greatest_Game on February 20, 2013, 7:59 GMT

    @ zenboomerang fiercely criticises Firdose Moonda, quoting stats of Philander & Kleinvedt to refute her statements, & then says that "Steyn, Morkel & Kallis all have much worse averages in Oz." Much worse than what is not said, but lets take a look:

    In 2008, min 10 wickets: Steyn 18 wickets, ave 26.26, SR 43.7. Siddle,13 wickets, ave 27.38, SR 67.2. Johnson, 17 wickets, ave 25.88, SR 56.3. Steyn - most wickets, best SR, & 0.5 ave more than Johnson. Morkel sucked, 9 @ 42.66.

    In 2012: Morkel 14 wickets, ave 28.5, SR 46.7. Steyn, 12 wickets, ave 30.83, SR 54.7. Lyon 12 wickets, ave 40.5, SR 89. Siddle 9 wickets, ave 38, SR 77.8.

    Only Lyon lasted 3 tests - the other Oz bowlers broke down, but in Perth the figs were: Steyn 7/112 ave 16, Philander 4/96 ave 24, Starc 8/209 av 26.125, Johnson 6/164 ave 27.3, & Peterson 6/171 ave 28.5.

    Steyn, in Oz, has better averages THAN ANY OZ BOWLER. In 2012, Morkel was the top bowler, Steyn 2nd. I guess that's why SA WON BOTH SERIES, & are No. 1

  • Greatest_Game on February 20, 2013, 6:24 GMT

    @ Ozcricketwriter says Lee, Bird & Pattinson's stats beat Steyn's, & Bird's beat Philander's, but then says, "the article should have said "of players who have at least 50 test wickets"

    Philander: 15 tests, 87 wickets, ave 16.81. By no. of tests, Philander was 2nd fastest to 50 wickets. CTB Turner, 6 matches, 1888. T Richardson 7 matches, 1896, Philander 7 matches, 2011 - fastest in 120 years, & fastest ever by no. of balls bowled.

    Bird, 2 tests, ave 16.18. Pattinson, ave 22.09 & Brett Lee, ave 30.81, both above 16 ave after 3 tests. Philander UNDER 16 ave for his FIRST 8 TESTS.

    Lee, 76 tests, 10 "5 fors." Philander, 15 tests, has NINE. Pattinson, 2 after 7 tests, Philander 2 after 2. Bird has 0

    Philander, 1st match, 5 for 15, ave 9.75 (Australia 47 all out, lol) & 10 for 102 in his 3rd match. Lee, Pattinson, Bird - no 10 fors.

    Steyn. 64 tests, 327 wickets, ave 22.68, 5 fors - 21; 10 fors - 5.

    Stats say Lee, Bird & Pattinson are club level compared to Philander & Steyn!

  • crashed on February 19, 2013, 21:50 GMT

    @Swingit Are you sure about SA supporters claiming anything you are saying we are claiming lol only claim i have seen and i do not know who made it and if it is a SA supporter is the claim of Kallis being a great player ... to which i totally agree hope he get his 300 wickets lol To compare any player to any other player is rather silly and a point of perspective for instance and i have mentioned it elseware to compare Allan Donald with steyn even I will have 2 minds since AD came from the franchise i support and DS dont but both great players in THEIR TIME and both - to me - great players... And i assure you Vernon is World Famous in South Africa :) I am sure the world will find out why if they still wonder why ;)

  • dummy4fb on February 19, 2013, 20:25 GMT

    @Apocalypse_EX, agreed but I still think people like BigBoodha are too harsh on him based on actually ONE poor innings! He was very good in that third test but its no shame to be overshadowed by the world no.1 bowler? Surely? Making the addition of tour stats to justify one's opinion is just laughable! I wonder how other bowlers fare in these 'practice' sessions? Funny how everyone just assumes he'll struggle in the sub-continent even though India also has a 125kph bowler (B Kumar) swinging balls around corners