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

Philander leads the pack

32

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!

  • timtom 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.

  • 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!

  • timtom 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.

  • thecricketlover on December 16, 2011, 6:37 GMT

    I guess we are missing a point here Philander done well here..fine. In fact in first three test of his career are just superb. But if a subcontinent player(spinner) done same in spin track no appreciation given to him and all credit given to conditions instead to bowler. Dennis Lillie Ntinie or even Richard Haidlie (although he is better among the lot ) were all condition dependent. Look at their records outside Aus, Eng, Nz SA and you will find how ordinary they are. (I know they are greats but I trying to explain conditions here). If Wasim and Waqar were playing in above mentioned countries you can imagine what were their records.

  • on December 16, 2011, 6:16 GMT

    Philander looks like a great find. I just wonder how with a first class average of 19 it took him so long to get into the Test team.

  • on December 16, 2011, 6:00 GMT

    @G.Sri Do not jump, IND,SL,PAK all are fear of Green Tops and same way other teams are fear of Turning tracks in Asia.That is the truth. Wining a one or two matches in life time in SA you cant say no(after playing 79Yrs). PAK is the first Asia team to win a Test match in SA. Not IND. If IND is not fear then same thing apply for PAK as well. PAK (59 Yrs & SL 30Yrs). If not fear why IND bowled out 66&100 in Durban at same match.

  • on December 16, 2011, 5:48 GMT

    OhhhMattyMatty, Philander is bowling alongside recognised top level bowlers, who also bowled to that same batting line up, who didn't produce figures anywhere near as good as Philander's. The guy is performing really well right now, and that's really all there is to it.

  • shovwar on December 16, 2011, 5:41 GMT

    @ G Sri....India never Hammered SA...U can say India Played well and won....in a rare occassion....India's record still looks slim in SA...1 win does not change anything.....esp Sub Continent batsmen fearing green tops...When India can win a series in SA they can be considered differently....India never won a series in SA...But SA won series in India....So for now Philander is correct.....

  • strudi74 on December 16, 2011, 5:20 GMT

    OhhhMattyMatty He is just bowling to whom he is being put up against, what is the point of making a comment like that? Philander has proven himself at first class level and is doing it in the Test side as well- his average will probably come down in the subcontinent but until that happens give the guy some credit for taking apart the opposition that he is being given. I'm holding thumbs for some good application and a big score from SA today.

  • JustOUT on December 16, 2011, 4:05 GMT

    It will be good if he maintains this consistency for some period. Morkel will be back with the bang.

  • satish619chandar on December 16, 2011, 3:52 GMT

    @OhhhMattyMatty : Funny that only Philander need to prove against good batsmen in flat decks right?

  • Srini_Indian on December 16, 2011, 3:35 GMT

    Its funny reading Philander's statement of "sub-continent teams fear green tops" when India hammered the SA in Durban which was a green top. The statement should be SL and Pakistan fear green tops

  • on December 16, 2011, 3:14 GMT

    @ Afridynamite, Pakistan will whitewash England in a TEST series? LOL, good luck with that. but i do see south africa comfortable whitewashing sri lanka

  • satanswish on December 16, 2011, 3:10 GMT

    Srilanka scored better than expected. I wouldn't expect much 100plus scores from them this series.

  • on December 16, 2011, 0:47 GMT

    Do we really need pace? Just look at what Philander is doing. He bowls around 130 and even his first class average is terrific. I think Indian bowlers can taken heart from this.

  • Afridynamite on December 16, 2011, 0:43 GMT

    SA will whitewash SL and Pakistan will whitewash Eng, so Eng will soon lose their No 1 status to SA

  • inefekt on December 16, 2011, 0:11 GMT

    Does anyone know what the record is for five wicket hauls in consecutive matches from a players debut? Philander has done it in his first three matches, Pattinson for Australia has done it in his first two. Who holds the overall record?

  • OhhhMattyMatty on December 16, 2011, 0:03 GMT

    Philander needs to do something on a flat deck against a decent side. All he's doing so far is boosting his average against mediocre batsmen on green tops.

  • Chris_P on December 15, 2011, 22:34 GMT

    No one should be really surprised by the score to date. SL is in bowling rebuilding stage and the Saffers are very, very good in their own back yard. The pace and bounce of the pitch, plus the high octane quality bowling was always going to be too much for SL. I have said it before, the SL authorities need to develop one of their pitches, if not more to a pacy bouncy style for both their bowlers to develop and their batsmen to profit. Unlike other sub continent countries, SL does have both the weather and grounds to create quick pitches. Then they would stand out from the other sub contintental teams, and would compete everywhere.

  • drnaveed on December 15, 2011, 20:24 GMT

    sangakara, jayawardene and samaraweera are all above 34 years of age (less than one year difference in age between them),all have batting averages well above 50/innings . according to mr dileep mendis , samaraweera is not in long term plan of sri lankan cricket team.samraweera is also scoring runs like the other SL batsmen just leaving sangakara, does he have any thing personnal with samaraweera ?????????? jayawardene is also not among runs recently , but mr mendis did not spoke any thing about him.

  • on December 15, 2011, 20:04 GMT

    Morkel looks like a weak link to me..he has been this way for a long time...time Tsotbe is given a shot at it or the young man Marchant ??

  • landl47 on December 15, 2011, 19:30 GMT

    Sri Lanka look to be pretty much done as a top side for the next few years. Without Murali and Malinga they have no strike bowlers and their batting si increasingly uncertain. Dilshan, Sanga, Mahela and Samaraweera are all in their mid-thirties and there doesn't seem to be anyone except Matthews of real test class coming up. I've always liked and admired the Sri Lankan team, so it's sad to see them on the downside at the moment. Hopefully a new generation of test-class players will come along soon.

  • on December 15, 2011, 19:22 GMT

    Philander will be such an asset for the England series... SA only require Morkel to get his radar working and that' a formidable 3-man attack

  • on December 15, 2011, 19:06 GMT

    this and yr article on morkel are very very perceptive..great stuff thanks

  • playitstraight on December 15, 2011, 19:01 GMT

    Philiander bowled mighty well and SA are in a dominant position at 90-1, with SL on the backfoot. But in Test cricket, anything can happen. SL were 156-4 and suddenly the scoreboard read 180 all out! There is only one thing SL bowlers have to do just like Philiander: bowl good lines, good length, and keep the ball swinging a bit. Oh yeah and also, PITCH IT UP!

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  • playitstraight on December 15, 2011, 19:01 GMT

    Philiander bowled mighty well and SA are in a dominant position at 90-1, with SL on the backfoot. But in Test cricket, anything can happen. SL were 156-4 and suddenly the scoreboard read 180 all out! There is only one thing SL bowlers have to do just like Philiander: bowl good lines, good length, and keep the ball swinging a bit. Oh yeah and also, PITCH IT UP!

  • on December 15, 2011, 19:06 GMT

    this and yr article on morkel are very very perceptive..great stuff thanks

  • on December 15, 2011, 19:22 GMT

    Philander will be such an asset for the England series... SA only require Morkel to get his radar working and that' a formidable 3-man attack

  • landl47 on December 15, 2011, 19:30 GMT

    Sri Lanka look to be pretty much done as a top side for the next few years. Without Murali and Malinga they have no strike bowlers and their batting si increasingly uncertain. Dilshan, Sanga, Mahela and Samaraweera are all in their mid-thirties and there doesn't seem to be anyone except Matthews of real test class coming up. I've always liked and admired the Sri Lankan team, so it's sad to see them on the downside at the moment. Hopefully a new generation of test-class players will come along soon.

  • on December 15, 2011, 20:04 GMT

    Morkel looks like a weak link to me..he has been this way for a long time...time Tsotbe is given a shot at it or the young man Marchant ??

  • drnaveed on December 15, 2011, 20:24 GMT

    sangakara, jayawardene and samaraweera are all above 34 years of age (less than one year difference in age between them),all have batting averages well above 50/innings . according to mr dileep mendis , samaraweera is not in long term plan of sri lankan cricket team.samraweera is also scoring runs like the other SL batsmen just leaving sangakara, does he have any thing personnal with samaraweera ?????????? jayawardene is also not among runs recently , but mr mendis did not spoke any thing about him.

  • Chris_P on December 15, 2011, 22:34 GMT

    No one should be really surprised by the score to date. SL is in bowling rebuilding stage and the Saffers are very, very good in their own back yard. The pace and bounce of the pitch, plus the high octane quality bowling was always going to be too much for SL. I have said it before, the SL authorities need to develop one of their pitches, if not more to a pacy bouncy style for both their bowlers to develop and their batsmen to profit. Unlike other sub continent countries, SL does have both the weather and grounds to create quick pitches. Then they would stand out from the other sub contintental teams, and would compete everywhere.

  • OhhhMattyMatty on December 16, 2011, 0:03 GMT

    Philander needs to do something on a flat deck against a decent side. All he's doing so far is boosting his average against mediocre batsmen on green tops.

  • inefekt on December 16, 2011, 0:11 GMT

    Does anyone know what the record is for five wicket hauls in consecutive matches from a players debut? Philander has done it in his first three matches, Pattinson for Australia has done it in his first two. Who holds the overall record?

  • Afridynamite on December 16, 2011, 0:43 GMT

    SA will whitewash SL and Pakistan will whitewash Eng, so Eng will soon lose their No 1 status to SA