Big Vern reels in the big fish

'I wanted to make a difference in this game' - Philander (1:13)

Vernon Philander speaks after his career-best innings figures of 6 for 42 in South Africa's win against India at Newlands (1:13)

Vernon Philander's pitch map to Virat Kohli in the second innings of the Cape Town Test is a thing of a beauty. Philander bowled 13 balls to Kohli over two spells; all of them pitched outside off, not one was full enough to drive or short enough to cut. Nothing fuller than 6m from the stumps, nothing shorter than 8m. That's not where the beauty ends. Philander's stock line to Kohli is not the usual fourth- or fifth-stump line usually bowled to batsmen. With Kohli, you shift the line wider because he is extremely good at the drive, and tends to play further away from his body than most batsmen. Eleven of those 13 deliveries are bowled a set of stumps wide of off stumps but not any wider.

Kohli is left frustrated. There is no length for Kohli to drive, the line is not close enough for him to take a risk, and with every ball he is moving across his stumps to try to get close to the ball. To the fifth ball of the 20th over, Kohli finally manages to move across enough to cover the line and push the ball for a single. Now the plan is reaching its final stages.

Philander comes back for the next over, the third he is bowling from the Kelvin Grove End, with the endgame on his mind. This is his home. He likes the Wynberg End. He is given the Wynberg End most of the time. This is not most of the time. Dale Steyn has injured himself. There are only three quicks left in South Africa's attack. There is no allrounder to bowl change-up overs as Philander recovers for a new spell from the Wynberg End. South Africa can't afford to wait here after being bowled out for 130 and setting India 208. This match has been a big gamble: an unnaturally quick and seaming Newlands pitch, four fast bowlers, batting after winning the toss. This is a match South Africa just can't lose.


'I wanted to make a difference in this game' - Philander

Vernon Philander speaks after his career-best innings figures of 6 for 42 in South Africa's win against India at Newlands

So Philander comes back for a new over. He bowls well outside off, Kohli moves across and pushes to cover. Wide outside off again, and Kohli moves across again, and then defends. Wide again, and this time he leaves. With the fourth ball, Philander goes the closest he has to Kohli all afternoon: it's 6.5m on length, and the fourth stump on line. It seams back in, beating Kohli's inside edge to trap him plumb in front.

"I think it was two-and-a-half overs of away-swingers, and then the one back into him," Philander says. "It was definitely a plan to keep him quiet, and also to drag him across to make sure that when you do bowl the other one, he's on the other side of the off-stump.

"Virat is an aggressive player, and the key thing is to keep him quiet and to make sure you set him up for the other one. Initially it was for me to keep him quiet, and I always knew I had the one coming back."

Philander is fired up now. South Africa too. They let R Ashwin have it. "Not quite a bowler, not quite a batsman, this guy Vern," they shout. There is definite previous then between Philander and India from 2015-16, when South Africa toured India and lost 3-0. Philander has a reputation. People question his record in conditions where the ball doesn't seam. David Warner has questioned his intent to play in difficult conditions. Graeme Smith has questioned his fitness and work ethic.

"I like people to be constructive and open and honest with us as players," Philander says. "There are two ways of taking it: you can take it personally and fade away, or you can take it on board and make a play. I took it a bit personally up front, you are all obviously human, but you try to get over it as quickly as possible, get better, do some work behind the scenes and come back stronger."

All this doesn't matter now. There is a Test to be won, and he has the conditions and the home crowd behind him. He keeps coming back over after over. He bowls the most overs for a South African in this Test. He walks back to applause at the end of every over. His final one is not meant to be. Faf du Plessis wants to bowl Morne Morkel. Philander tells him he has just got warm, and needs another. Du Plessis tells him to do so with the wicketkeeper up because R Ashwin has been taking stance outside the crease.

Philander swallows his ego and calls Quinton de Kock up to the stumps. He gets the edge first ball. Then two more wickets. The match is over but this is a day on which Big Vern could have bowled forever.