'Big Vern' - The Proteas hero who always found a way

Vernon Philander (Gallo)
Vernon Philander (Gallo)

Cape Town - It may not have been the ending he had hoped for, but the standing ovation Vernon Philander received from his team-mates and the small crowd at the Wanderers on Monday told its own story of just how special a Protea he was. 

Philander, who ends his Test career with 64 caps and 224 wickets at an average of 22.32, goes down as one of the best new ball bowlers South African cricket has ever produced in the format. 

Seventh on the list of leading wicket-takers in South African Test history, Philander was already 26-years-old when he made his Test debut against Australia, famously taking 5/15 to help bowl the visitors out for 47 in their second innings at Newlands. 

He hit the ground running and was an instant success at Test level, but looking at his impeccable record today, it is an undeniable shame that Philander did not feature more in Proteas whites over the years. 

What numbers could he have achieved?

It is, of course, a futile exercise now and we should not detract from what is already a stellar contribution to Proteas cricket, but that Philander's unique skill set took a relatively long time to rise to the top does make one wonder what could have been. 

Philander entered at a time when the South African attack was being led by the raw pace of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, and he slotted in perfectly between those two to provide an injection of balance. 

A product of Ravensmead High School and Tygerberg Cricket Club just outside Cape Town, Philander sidestepped a more familiar road to the top that involves private schooling and the very best in the way of facilities and coaching. 

Would his career have taken a different path had he been in the privileged position of having access to those things? Possibly. Does he think about that? Absolutely not.   

"When you come from our sort of background, there are a couple of other skills that you're brought up with," Philander told media at the Wanderers on Monday, looking back at his career.

"Survival is one of them, and then you always find a way, regardless of what the conditions are.

"It's something that I will always be grateful for, especially from where I've come from in life.

"I'm sitting here today, and I've got no regrets. I'm thoroughly humbled and thankful for the opportunities that have been given to me."

Philander has signed a Kolpak deal with Somerset that will be re-evaluated on a year-to-year basis, but he still wants to be involved in South African cricket in some capacity moving forward. 

"I haven't given it a lot of thought, but I'd like to be part of it. Maybe in a mentorship kind of role where we make sure that we keep the younger guys coming through the system up to scratch," he said.

"I need to go sit with the higher powers and see how we can accommodate it."

In a country where pace is still considered king, Philander wants young South African bowlers to focus equally on their skill-sets. 

"When you don't have the pace, you need other skills to come to the party and I think that I was fortunate that when I started playing," he said. 

"I played with guys like Charl Willoughby, Alan Dawson and Charl Langeveldt ... all skilful bowlers.

"I could learn off them and apply my trade in a rather unique, different way.

"Over the years you learn that the more consistent you can be, regardless of the pace, the more effective you will be.

"I would say we just need to make sure that we keep topping up on the youngsters and make sure that it's not all about pace all the time and that we're also worried about other skills like swinging the ball and nipping the ball.

"Those are other assets in the game that will ultimately make you a great bowler one day.

"We need to make sure that we keep those skills alive, but how we go about it, we need to sit down and make sure that we pass it onto the younger generation."

In the end, images of Philander limping off the Wanderers turf with a hamstring strain were not fitting for a man who has gone above and beyond for his country. 

The memories, though, will last forever and 'Big Vern's' abilities with the new ball in hand will be spoken about for generations. 

"How would I like to be remembered? As someone who always gave it my all," he said.

"I think that's all you can ask for. I've left it all out there with no regrets."

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
With the Springboks losing their last two matches against Australia, how concerned are you?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Very concerned! Something is not right ...
59% - 1796 votes
I'm not worried. Every team has a bad game. The Boks will bounce back.
17% - 519 votes
It's too early to tell. Let's see how they go against the All Blacks.
24% - 736 votes