Vernon Philander, the South Africa allrounder, has announced his impending retirement from international cricket. The upcoming Test series against England will be his final outing for his country, bringing to a close a career that began in 2007.
Philander, 34, has taken more than 200 wickets in his 60 Tests to date, putting him seventh on the all-time list for South Africa. However, he has increasingly had to battle injury, making only six appearances in the last 18 months. He played in 40 ODIs, most recently at the 2015 World Cup, and also featured at the inaugural World T20 in 2007.
"It's been coming on for a while, you get to the stage in your career when you've got to make a decision," Philander said. "I've had a wonderful career but I'm moving into the darker area for fast bowlers, 35 next year, so I think it's an appropriate time to call it a day in international cricket.
"Personally I've done what I wanted to, trying to play Test cricket and get the team into some great positions. I've been part of the No. 1 team for a couple of years and that was always part of the aim. Leaving the set-up now, you want to finish on a high and make sure the team is on the graph back up again. We've got a young team at the moment so I'd like to play my part in seeing that I leave the team in a good state and also making sure that I pass most of my knowledge on to the younger players in the set-up."
A bustling seam-and-swing bowler, Philander made a dazzling start to his Test career after debuting at the age of 26, claiming nine five-fors in his first 15 Tests and reaching the 100-wicket mark in just his 19th appearance. He claimed his best Test figures last year, taking 6 for 21 against Australia. However, his fitness levels have been questioned, including by former captain Graeme Smith, recently installed as South Africa's new director of cricket.
Philander was injured four times in his first 10 Test series, but played on Smith's insistence against Australia in a must-win game in 2014. The next year, on tour in India, he suffered his most significant setback when he hurt his left ankle in the football warm-ups before the Bangalore Test. He did not play the rest of that series, which South Africa lost 3-0, or the 2-1 home defeat against England which followed, and was only in action again nine months later.
Philander featured in 14 consecutive Tests after that, but on the 2017 tour of England his problems seemed to resurface. He took ill during the third Test and was hospitalised overnight but was passed fit for the series-deciding fourth Test before back spasms ruled him out. It was then that Smith's criticism was at its strongest. South Africa lost the match and the series and coach Russell Domingo lost his job, being replaced by Ottis Gibson.
Gibson's first assignment was against Bangladesh, a series Philander sat out as he continued to recover from his back problem. He went on to play in the other eight Tests South Africa hosted in the 2017-18 summer, thereby meeting Gibson's challenge to stay fit for the rest of the season. But his good run did not last and in February, he was ruled out of a crucial Test against Sri Lanka at home. Sri Lanka became the first team from the subcontinent to win a series in South Africa, who have now lost their last five successive Tests.
Philander hopes to bow out on a winning note, however, with the four-Test series against England beginning at Centurion on Boxing Day. He is the senior member of the bowling attack, which has lost the services of Steyn, Morkel, Duanne Olivier and Kyle Abbott over recent years.
"We've got a good opportunity playing at home against England," he said. "It would be a fitting farewell, beating England in South Africa. They're one of the top-four international sides at the moment and would definitely be a fitting send-off if we can beat them."
The series concludes in Johannesburg at the end of January, and Philander said he would take some time off to decide on his next move but indicated that he saw a future for himself in a developmental role. "I'll still be involved in the game somehow," he said. "There's a massive part for us still to be played in South African cricket, because of development, young and upcoming players need guidance. I see myself playing a massive role in that."