Match Analysis

Retiring Vernon Philander grateful to have 'found a way' to succeed

Seamer emphasises skills above speed as he brings 64-Test career to a close

Vernon Philander is embraced by Quinton de Kock after his final Test innings, South Africa v England, 4th Test, Johannesburg, 4th day, January 27, 2020

Vernon Philander is embraced by Quinton de Kock after his final Test innings  •  Christiaan Kotze/AFP via Getty

Vernon Philander, who played the last of his 64 Tests at the Wanderers, urged aspirant South Africa bowlers to work on their skills as much as their speed as they enter a new era. That is sound advice from the seamer, who made his name with subtle movement in a time when express pace, big bats and flat decks dominated the international game, ending up seventh on South Africa's all-time wicket-takers' list.
"When you don't have pace, you need other skills to come to the party," Philander said. "Over the years, you learn the more consistent you can be, irrespective of what pace you bowl at, you will be effective. We just have to make sure we are not just worried about pace all the time. We need to make sure we are nipping the ball and that we can swing the ball, because those are assets in the game that will make you a great bowler one day. We need to make sure we keep those skills alive."
Though Philander has signed a Kolpak deal with Somerset he intends to return to South Africa in the long-term and have a coaching role of some description. "I'd like to be a part of it, probably in a mentorship role, to make sure we the younger guys that are coming into the system are up to scratch," he said.
In particular, Philander seems interested in working with people from backgrounds similar to his own. Ravensmead, where Philander is from, forms part of the Cape Flats, a working-class and historically-neglected area of Cape Town which has a reputation for lack of safety. It was there, at Ravensmead High, on concrete pitches, that Philander first rose to prominence, making him one of the few internationals in this country who were not educated at an elite school. He has set up his own academy to work with promising young players in similar situations, to broaden and diversify South Africa's talent pool.
Philander also said his childhood taught him how to be tough, which is a quality he also brought into his bowling. "When you come from my sort of background, there are a couple of other skills that you get brought up with," he said. "Survival is one of them. You always find a way, irrespective of what the conditions are. That's something I will always be grateful for, especially from where I come from. You always have to find a way to make it through in life."
Beuran Hendricks and Dane Paterson, who both debuted in this series and played in Philander's final Tests, are examples of players who have followed in Philander's footsteps. All three are from Cape Town's northern suburbs, which makes Philander the senior in the group. Despite the result, he said it was "a really special feeling" to be playing alongside them in this Test match.
Hendricks was on debut, Paterson's career is only two Tests old, and the other frontline seamer in the team, Anrich Nortje has played six Tests. With Kagiso Rabada suspended and allrounder Dwaine Pretorius in his third match, that meant South Africa's attack was laced with inexperience, which was exacerbated by the limited role Philander played in the match after a hamstring tear.
Like his captain, Faf du Plessis, Philander has asked for patience as South Africa transition. "We are at the start of a new generation. It's a pretty young team, a pretty new team and you have to allow people to settle into positions," Philander said. "We South Africans are pretty quick to criticise. There's a lot of young players in the team and we've got to allow them a bit of time to settle in. Only then will the wheels start turning with regards to performances. We had a fairytale start at Centurion but the way they managed to turn it around was pretty special."
Still, Philander has faith in South Africa's new management team and believes a turnaround is not too far away. "You always look for credibility wherever you go in life and whatever set-up you are in and we've got credible people running the system," he said. "With [Mark] Boucher and [Jacques] Kallis, between the two of them, there's as many as Test cap as probably our whole team at the moment. It's a young team we've got to allow them time to find their feet."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent