South Africa v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Centurion, 1st day December 15, 2011

Philander leads the pack

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There is a secret to bowling on a pitch that glistens with green and Vernon Philander knows what it is. After taking 5 for 53 on the first day against Sri Lanka, his word can probably be trusted.

"You have to bowl as you would on a flat wicket," Philander said. "Sometimes when you see a green top, you think you have to bowl a bouncer, yorker, or a good length ball. But the assistance is already there so you don't have to look for anything else."

Of all the South African bowlers, Philander was the one who best displayed the characteristic that Graeme Smith said he would ask his bowlers to focus on in this series: control. While Dale Steyn was used in short bursts, Morne Morkel was troubled by inconsistency; which left Philander to become Smith's go-to man when things threatened to get beyond South Africa's control.

That only happened twice in Sri Lanka's brief innings, first when Tharanga Paranavitana and Mahela Jayawardene formed a half-century stand for the third wicket and then when Thilan Samaraweera and Angelo Matthews weighed in with a fifth-wicket partnership of 65. Both times, Philander intervened.

He bowled Paranavitana with a ball that was just too good for the opener and snuck between bat and pad and he had Samaraweera dismissed on review, after being certain he was caught behind. Philander said his close relationship with the DRS, which also bagged him the wicket of Kaushal Silva, was driven by "gut instinct" but admitted that there was a little bit of luck that went into it.

There was no luck involved in his first scalp, that of Kumar Sangakkara who was in two minds about whether to play or leave a delivery which took off from an awkward length. It was that variation in length that Philander relied on, whether bowling to the world's top-ranked Test batsmen or one who has only played in two Tests to date. "I play the player, not the name," Philander said. "Even if it's the No. 10, I will use the same disciplines."

He said South Africa were satisfied with their work in the field, having identified "anything under-200 as a par score to bowl them out on," and were also pleased with their ability to finish the Sri Lankans off after getting them on the ropes. "We always knew if we can get No. 7 or 8 in there, we would be in with chance of getting them out cheaply," he said. "When Nos. 8, 9, 10, 11 walk in they should know that the seamers are coming their way."

The pace-friendly surface was not as menacing as it looked and although the pitch did have something in it for the bowlers, Sri Lanka's batsmen made it look a lot worse than what it was. Philander said only Jayawardene showed the temperament required to play on it while the rest of line-up read the situation incorrectly.

"The way [Mahela] approached his innings, they were no signs of fearing the short ball," Philander said. "A lot of the subcontinent teams come here and see a green top and think they are going to be bounced on later on, so they may as well play a few shots."

He admitted that the South African bowlers could sense the dread in their opponents even before they went out to play. "At the toss some of their guys were looking at the coin to see which way it fell. Subcontinent teams fear a green top."

The only bowler who did not have a profitable outing was Morkel, but Philander brushed it off as just another day at the office. "That's what happens in cricket," he said. "Sometimes, one bowler will often have an off day and the rest of us try and make up for it." Philander made up for it double.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Habi on December 16, 2011, 12:30 GMT

    @thecricketlover, its true that Pak has a good bowling attack but what about their batting except Yunis (to some extent Misbah) its pathetic. Also Pak has won same matches as that of Ind in SA. In Aus. though Pak's record is very pathetic compared to India.

  • satish619chandar on December 16, 2011, 12:21 GMT

    @timtom : Don't blabber something.. Philander under these conditions can handle Sehwag.. @Others : Subcontinent are not comfortable on green tracks.. So is other teams on dust bowls.. But subcontinent never whined about the pitches even if it is as same color as outfield.. The whole cricketing world knows how the teams react to the dust bowls.. SA is the only team to d owell in India and they too won only when the pitches aided fast bowlers.. They never won in spinning tracks.. But they are the best team to have played ever since the WI era!!

  • chilled_avenger on December 16, 2011, 11:48 GMT

    @thecricketlover So you think Richard Hadlee's success was due to the conditions because his record in Asia was not impressive! Well,I have got news for you.......Hadlee took 68 wickets in 13 tests in the Subcontinent at an average of 21.58,does that sound like a mediocre record to you! So don't go around mocking a legend when you have no clue what you are talking about. I myself belong to the Subcontinent but I respect the legends of the game irrespective of the countries they belong to!

  • smartcat on December 16, 2011, 11:48 GMT

    Sehwag will take him to cleaners when SA tours india.. At his pace he is sure to boost batting averages of batsmen in subcontinent with no swing and bounce.. Till then good luck on green tops.

  • stormy16 on December 16, 2011, 9:24 GMT

    What a star Philander is and what a start to a career. He is also a classic example of one doesnt have to be a tear away fast bowler with pace to get the job done. He hardly uses the bouncer or bowls with exterme pace. He just knows what he is doing and has fine tuned his game to get most out. SL were poor with bat and ball and the batsman again unable to adapt. Sanga and Mahela both got out to balls they could have left and what a pathetic shot by Dilshan. Its now a case of how much SA make.

  • chandy86 on December 16, 2011, 9:01 GMT

    guys why are we fighting here. This is not a battle field.let us enjoy the game .

  • thecricketlover on December 16, 2011, 7:53 GMT

    @G.Sri I wonder if someone make green tops against Pak. Yes Sri and Ind may struggle there but Pak has good pace attack mind you. Pak won several series in NZ and Eng in Past remember. Also Pakistan won more than one tests in SA and Aus and draw the series as well.

  • Micgyver on December 16, 2011, 7:32 GMT

    He looks a good bowler Philander,good luck to him.Sth Africa always produce good fast bowlers but he is more in the medium swing/off cutter mode.It worked for Shaun Pollock.Dale Steyn is still the man though,he has everything on a fast bowlers list.Fast,aggresive,swing,seam and consistent.

  • priceless1 on December 16, 2011, 7:07 GMT

    its not that sub continent Teams fear green tops it is because they are aliens to the conditions ..give then few more practice matches and then u'll find they are up to the task( but of course SA knows that that's hwy they wanted to give little practice as possible by giving just one warm up match)

  • Bruce_Robinson on December 16, 2011, 6:57 GMT

    @OhhhMattyMatty. You're right that Philander still has a lot to prove in Test match cricket before we all get too excited but he has taken 265 FC wickets at an average of 19.72. I think that's the best FC average of current players in the world (who have bowled a lot). There is every reason to back him to produce the goods on pretty much any surface based on his FC record and he's shown that he is definitely not overawed by the big stage. I think he's got a very good Test career ahead of him.

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