Morkel hole in ODIs: Welcome back Vern?

Vernon Philander (Gallo)
Vernon Philander (Gallo)

Cape Town - His recent Test swansong against Australia understandably hogged the headlines ... but perhaps people forget that Morne Morkel leaves a considerable void in South Africa's one-day international (ODI) plans as well.

Now Surrey-bound, the popular, 33-year-old Morkel is the country's sixth-highest wicket-taker in ODIs - behind only Shaun Pollock, Jacques Kallis, Allan Donald, Makhaya Ntini and Lance Klusener - with 188 scalps at 25.32.

The lanky paceman also finished his career in the shorter format with an economy rate agreeably inside five runs to the over (4.95).

The Proteas have some quality speed options both young (think Lungi Ngidi, for example) and older (think Dale Steyn) potentially in the mix for another assault on the World Cup in mid-2019, so in them alone could lie plugs that close the hole left by Morkel.

But I have another suggestion, especially considering the major host country for CWC 2019 (England, and in relatively early season there): Vernon Philander.

His reputation in the Test arena only enhanced by his exploits in the historic, though deeply controversial 3-1 series triumph over the Aussies recently, Philander is naturally a prize element of South Africa's longest-format arsenal, and there has been some reluctance in recent years to risk "over-play" by using the land-it-on-a-dime seamer too prolifically in limited-overs cricket.

But with the World Cup little more than a year away, it will be interesting to gauge whether the national selectors intend having Philander, 32, add further to his current tally of 30 ODI appearances.

Those stretch back more than 10 years, of course, to his debut against Ireland at Belfast in 2007, when he also registered what remain his best figures in the landscape of four for 12.

Perhaps you wouldn't be thinking too actively about Philander were the next World Cup, for instance, to be somewhere on the Subcontinent with its generally unforgiving pitches for the quicker men, including offering precious little seam or swing.

But the fact that it is in the more temperate, greener climes of England and environs should trigger almost automatic images of "SuperVern" coming productively into his own there ... in what would also be his own second stab at a World Cup, after his part in the Proteas’ agonising near-miss of 2015 (staged by Australia and New Zealand).

Albeit an entirely different beast in both build and bowling style to Morkel, he would be a like-for-like "replacement", if it does come to that, in terms of broad international street-wisdom - so valued at an event like CWC.

His 41 wickets thus far have come at 24.04 and he also keeps a slightly better lid on the opposition scoring tempo (4.62 runs per over), for what it is worth, than Morkel did in his illustrious SA ODI career.

Philander last played in the 50-overs format for his country in successive matches against New Zealand in mid-2015, returning 10-1-51-2 at Centurion and 6-0-21-0 (plus a 30 not out, batting at eight) at Potchefstroom.

He has Shaun Pollock’s famed ability for nagging discipline at the start of an innings, even if, on certain "belters", his lack of true, express pace makes him vulnerable to a slog later on.

If it happens to be damp and overcast a lot of the time in England, however, Philander could be a factor regardless of when he actually provides his spells.

South Africa's next ODI engagements come on the now all-formats tour of Sri Lanka in July and August, and there is a good chance Philander will only be asked to play the two Tests at the front of the roster, returning home before the five-game ODI portion.

That country doesn’t exactly present conditions tailor-made for the burly seamer’s trade.

But later in the year, the Proteas do go on a limited-overs-only tour of Australia, and that could be a more realistic opportunity for Philander to ease his way back into ODI mode, with the World Cup creeping ever closer on the radar of priorities ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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