EXCLUSIVE: 'Pain' of 2015 has never left - Philander

Vernon Philander (Gallo)
Vernon Philander (Gallo)

Cape Town - Whatever happens between now and the end of his career, Vernon Philander will go down as one of the greatest Test bowlers South Africa has ever produced. 

His immaculate line and length and his ability to make the most of bowler-friendly conditions around the world has seen him notch 205 Test wickets at an average of just 21.54

He is the fastest cricketer since 1896 to the 50 Test wicket mark - he took just 7 matches - and he is also the quickest South African in history to 100 Test scalps (19 matches). 

'Big Vern's' contribution to the Proteas in the longest format of the game can never be questioned. 

But, for whatever reason, Philander's ODI career never quite got off the ground. 

His average of 24.04 and economy rate of 4.62 in the format suggests that he should boast far more than his current tally of 30 ODI caps over an 11-year period. 

Philander's obvious value to the Test side may have meant that, over the years, the Proteas brains trust made a conscious decision to prolong his red-ball career for as long as possible, and that would help explain why his role in white-ball cricket has been limited. 

Since playing in the 2015 Cricket World Cup semi-final against New Zealand in Auckland, Philander has played just two more ODIs, the last of which came against the same opposition in Potchefstroom in August of that same year. 

It means that Philander has gone well over three years without playing an ODI. 

That could all be about to change when the Proteas host Pakistan for five ODIs early next year in what is crucial preparation for the 2019 World Cup in England. 

Philander will certainly play in the three Tests that kick off that tour, but he wants more than that. 

While the Proteas already have a fairly good idea of what their best XI for the World Cup is, there remain a couple of uncertainties. 

The most prominent question mark hovers over the No 7 all-rounder position, where captain Faf du Plessis and coach Ottis Gibson are looking for a player who is "70% a batsman and 30% a bowler". While that split will never describe a player of Philander's obvious bowling ability, his batting strength cannot be understated. 

He is a technically correct player who has gotten better and better with the willow as his career has progressed, highlighted by a knock of 104 for the Cape Cobras against the Dolphins less than a month ago.

Philander can more than hold his own with the bat and it is hard to separate what he offers compared to the likes of Dwaine Pretorius, Wiaan Mulder and even the erratic Chris Morris and Andile Phehlukwayo. 

Philander's more immediate ODI opportunity, though, probably lies in the fact that Lungi Ngidi is out injured for three months

That opens the door for Philander against Pakistan, and he will want to make the most of that chance - if it comes. 

There has been no contact from Du Plessis or Gibson yet, but the 33-year-old is hopeful.

"I would like to (play against Pakistan) if selected," Philander told Sport24 on Tuesday.

"You always want to play for your country because it is such an honour.

"There were talks over the last few years for me to prolong my Test career, but now with the World Cup being in England it is an opportunity to play white ball cricket again and I would love to."

It goes without saying that the English conditions, which historically favour seam bowling, would suit Philander perfectly. 

That said, the Proteas seem to have settled on a Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Imran Tahir and Ngidi bowling quartet for the World Cup. 

Philander would have to show against Pakistan that he has the firepower to break that attack up, or at least add to it, because Ngidi is expected to be fit for the five ODIs against Sri Lanka in March next year.

"I think the boys have been bowling really well and you want guys to compete for spots," Philander said.

"As long as there is competition then it is good for everyone and we make each other better."

If Philander does go to the World Cup, he will join several others who are still feeling the pain of that final-over semi-final loss to New Zealand in 2015. 

Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Du Plessis, David Miller, JP Duminy, Steyn and Tahir all played in that match and are likely to be on the plane to England next year. 

"We've all been hurting and it's a pain that has been sitting there for a number of years," Philander said.

"We want to turn it around and get out on top this time."

Philander is currently representing the Durban Heat in the Mzansi Super League and he will next be in action on Wednesday night in a clash against the Paarl Rocks at Kingsmead.

The first ball is due to be bowled at 19:00.

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