Ntini: Big Vern has earned place alongside Proteas greats

Vernon Philander (Gallo)
Vernon Philander (Gallo)

Centurion - By the time he retires at the end of this England series, Vernon Philander will have played 64 Test matches for South Africa. 

Regardless of what happens between now and then, he has secured his status as one of the finest new ball bowlers South Africa has ever produced, but there will be many who feel that his incredible skill set commanded more caps than that. 

Allan Donald, for example, played 72 Test matches for the Proteas in a career that started late because of South Africa's isolation from international cricket until 1991. 

Shaun Pollock played 108 Tests, Makhaya Ntini 101, Dale Steyn 93 and Morne Morkel 86. 

Philander, though, had to wait until the age of 26 before he was given a Test debut against Australia in Cape Town in 2011 despite a domestic dominance that had spanned over three seasons.

His 5/15 in that second innings as the Aussies were rolled for just 47 will go down as one of the great Proteas Test debuts, and it set the standard for everything that followed in his glittering career. 

Philander's precision and ability to move the ball both ways on almost all surfaces have made him one of the most respected seamers in world cricket in recent times. 

It took him just 7 Test matches to get to 50 wickets and 19 to get to 100 - the fastest South African to both milestones. 

While his striking has slowed down in recent years since that golden period, he remains a constant threat because of his control and at Centurion on Friday he showed his class once more with a staggering return of 4/16 from 14.2 overs. 

Philander, who currently has 220 Test wickets to his name, will finish comfortably behind Steyn (439), Pollock (421), Ntini (390), Donald (330), Morkel (309) and even Jacques Kallis (291) but his average (21.83) is superior to all of those Proteas legends. 

Speaking to Sport24 at SuperSport Park, Ntini acknowledged that Philander had secured his place among those greats. 

"You can't place him apart from the likes of Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock and Dale Steyn. He belongs there," Ntini, a great himself, said. 

"He has been so good for South Africa and has done wonderfully for himself. He has been a great ambassador for all young, upcoming bowlers."

While South Africa has always been blessed in the fast bowling department, seeking a replacement for Philander will not be easy. Kagiso Rabada is the natural leader of this attack and the likes of Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi are promising, but what Philander has brought to the party over the last eight years has had nothing to do with raw pace or aggression. 

"We are worried about who is going to take over. Who is going to be that guy who is able to do what he has done for South Africa?" Ntini posed. 

"Retiring is not an easy thing for anybody and when you see him performing the way he is now, it makes you wonder why he retired."

The ability to perform so consistently, Ntini added, was a combination of raw ability, work ethic and the right mindset. 

"Vernon has made sure that in his own spare time he practices what can make him get to the top of the ladder. When you see him in the morning before play starts at practice and he runs in and hits the same spot right through. He has got his own self-belief," said Ntini. 

"In his mind, he has got nothing else to worry about other than the ball landing exactly on that mark."

Now 42, Ntini hoped that Philander would remain in the South African cricket structures long after he stopped playing for the national side. 

"He could be the next bowling coach of any province. He can't be forgotten. He needs to be utilised and every single province needs to use him," he said.

"He can teach youngsters how to bowl line and length and keep consistency as a bowler.

"Self-belief is one of the greatest things that a person needs to be reminded of, and Vern has always had that."

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