Minus KG, Vern takes SA centre stage

Vernon Philander (Gallo)
Vernon Philander (Gallo)

Cape Town - Right, over to you, Vernon Philander.

That will be the wish of many in the Proteas camp and among supporters as they gear up for the third Test against Australia at Newlands from next Thursday.

Controversially stripped of the services through suspension of red-hot strike factor Kagiso Rabada, the comfortable leading wicket-taker in the series with 15 at 16.80, it is only natural for a huge expectation to return to the shoulders of seasoned seamer Philander.

He is likely to team up for the next Test, in a still extremely useful fast bowling arsenal, with young Lungi Ngidi and vastly experienced Morne Morkel, who bows out of international cricket after the series and stands tantalisingly on 297 Test wickets.

Albeit an entirely different type of Test match-winner to Rabada – he is never going to blitz the opposition batting with outright pace, for instance - Philander’s patience, dead-eye lengths and ability to nip the ball off the seam when conditions are even vaguely suitable, suddenly look especially crucial assets for the Capetonian encounter.

Not only is he a handful with the new ball, but his ability to do a shackling job in the middle-to-late periods of innings is also valuable to South Africa, whilst any reverse swing possibilities also enhance his strike role.

Philander has been workmanlike and disciplined more than wonderful statistically in the series thus far, on pretty dry surfaces at Kingsmead and St George’s Park respectively, and boasts five scalps at 35.00.

That is some way down on his exemplary career average of 22.19.

Significantly, though, the 32-year-old from Ravensmead has an even more fairytale track record at franchise home venue Newlands, where he has amassed as many as 47 wickets at only 16.34.

They include his dramatic, dream debut against the very Australians in November 2011, a crazily see-sawing Test which the Proteas eventually won at a canter by eight wickets - Philander got 8/78 in the match, and five for 15 in the Aussie second knock of a miserly 47 all out (jaw-dropping 21/9 at one stage).

He also created unusual levels of carnage in a Test against New Zealand there once, his quick-fire five for seven seeing the Black Caps tumble to 45 all out in their first dig.

It is too far out just yet to know whether we will see a notably pronounced “Vern pitch” for the Test, with the local drought having had some impact on preparation all season, although curator Evan Flint is probably the best in the country in giving the Proteas pretty much what they wish for.

Considering the far from inconsiderable threat posed by Australia’s own primary pace trio, it may be safe to assume that the surface will not do as much as the one presented for the recent first Test against India.

Philander came heavily into his own on that occasion, a match South Africa won by 72 runs with the bustling competitor earning the player-of-the-match mantle with his 9/75, including six for 42 in the Indian second innings.

The Proteas have won seven of the eight Tests at the picturesque ground in which Philander has participated, with just one blemish against the Aussies in the last bilateral encounter there in 2013/14 - they prevailed by 245 runs and Philander unusually got just one dismissal throughout.

Then again, his all-round prowess came to the fore as he notched respective, gritty scores at the crease of 37 not out and another unbeaten 51.

You just don’t keep “SuperVern” out of the game at Newlands … next week may be no different?

A certain amount of cotton-wool aimed his way might be advisable in the interim.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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