Philander bowls over the nation

2012-03-31 19:10

While 50 Test wickets is a target that has been breached many a time, the speed at which those wickets are collected is something that cannot be looked down upon.

This is why Vernon Philander’s haul of 51 scalps in seven matches is amazing, making him the fastest South African to reach the landmark and the quickest in 116 years. The paceman said reaching the landmark was special and significant in the modern era.

“When I got to the 50th one, it was a special feeling for me, but it was also a special landmark
for me. It has not been achieved since the 1880s, but I can’t comment on cricket back then.

Hopefully, I’ll take a lot more,” said the man better known by his monicker, “V-Dawg”.

In the era of covered and batsman-friendly pitches, bowlers, spin and pace alike, have been on a hiding to nothing. However, last year seemed like the 1980s, where batsmen were measured and were found wanting. Philander was part of the bowling judge, jury and executioner group that put on trial and found batsmen ill-equipped at handling the moving ball.

His absence was sorely felt in the Boxing Day Test match against Sri Lanka. Even though the lanky Marchant de Lange proved an able replacement on debut, Philander’s sublime control of line and length was missed.

On a pitch that did not offer much to fast bowlers, top-order batsmen Thilan Samaraweera and Kumar Sangakkara prospered to the effect of a maiden Sri Lankan win on South African soil.

Philander is yet to bowl on the subcontinental featherbeds, which are a foreign fast bowler’s ultimate test. On those pitches – especially in India and Sri Lanka – the ball hardly bounces over stump height.

After the pasting India and Sri Lanka received on bouncy pitches, it is hardly likely that they will even think of preparing tracks with any grass.

They should be wary of preparing dust bowls because even though they aid spin, they put reverse swing into contention, which is even harder to negotiate than conventional swing.

Former South African fast-bowler Craig Matthews, who was the up-the-hill bowler in the early post-isolation days, acknowledges that Philander’s effectiveness could be blunted on Asian tracks, saying he should instead focus on current tours.

“It is going to be hard for him on those wickets because there is little movement on those wickets,” he said. “They also have no pace, so they might lessen his effectiveness.”

The 26-year-old has now joined the illustrious 50-wicket company.

Peter Pollock, Shaun Pollock’s father, drops to second with 50 wickets in nine Tests. Three other pre-isolation players in Albert Vogler, Hugh Tayfield and Aubrey Faulkner occupy positions three, four and six, respectively, with their hauls coming in at 11, 11 and 12 Tests, respectively.

Current Proteas’ bowling coach Allan “White Lightning” Donald occupies fifth spot with his 50 scalps in 11 Tests. Dale Steyn comes in at a distant 11th with his 50 collected in 13 Tests.

With an England tour coming up in July, Matthews, who has taken 52 wickets in 18 Tests, said Philander has the ability to trouble the English batsmen and the recent New Zealand tour was the perfect dress rehearsal as the conditions there are as close as one can find to England.

Philander will also get a taste of English conditions before the Test series as he will be playing for Somerset in the English County Championship.

“He will be perfectly suited to English conditions and he could trouble the English batsmen even though they are fed on a diet of bowlers of his type,” said Matthews.

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