Vernon Philander’s past two series against Australia have yielded disappointing results © Getty Images
While some of Australia’s former players have cautioned the current crop against too much talk in the upcoming Tests, Vernon Philander warned things won’t always stay genteel from the South African side, especially not when they are up against it.
“There’s going to be a time when a partnership will develop and it will require one or two bowlers to put up their hands and get a bit ugly and make things uncomfortable,” Philander said.
When those times come, Philander seems ready to put himself at the forefront. “That tests your character, it’s a part of Test cricket and testing your skills – you need to get out there and win that moment for your team. It’s going to be fun.”
For Philander, it may also be personal. He is perhaps more highly regarded at home than in Australia, – as was also the case when he toured England – despite his eight-for on debut against Australia in Cape Town in the match in which they were bowled out for 47. The Australians want to see him do that in Australia, just like the English wanted to see him to do it England.
Then, he responded by taking seven wickets at Lord’s, including 5 for 30 in the second innings, to win the Test and the mace and signed off with a line that is still repeated in South African circles: “Stats don’t lie,” he said, when asked what he would like to say the English after that day.
They don’t, and Philander’s numbers against Australia could do with some improving. In seven Tests against them, Philander has taken 35 wickets at an average of 30.24, much higher than his overall average of 22.09. In the past two series against them – 2012 and 2014 – he has taken only 11 wickets at 51.00.
His powers are considered to have waned since he became the fastest bowler in over a century to 100 Test wickets and the injury that kept him out of most of last summer has not helped him restore his reputation. On this tour, Philander has everything to prove but pre-series, he chose to play that down.
“It’s very important for me personally and it’s also important for us as a unit,” Philander said. “We’ve got to take 20 wickets and as long as I play my part in taking 20 wickets in a Test match, then I’ll be happy.”
His first chance at doing that will be on the surface that could offer the most assistance. The WACA is set to have something in it for the seamers, as the Gabba was expected to four years ago. Then, looks were deceiving and the all-pace attack Philander was part of backfired so he is being cautious about whether South Africa will go guns blazing this time. “We’ve always had three seamers with a spinner and a part-timer and we’re pretty used to that,” he said.
But with the pace pack at their disposal – Dale Steyn, fit-again Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abbott and Philander – it will be difficult to decide which two must sit out. And if they do opt for a four-pronged attack, Philander’s advice to his team-mates is not to get too excited by the surface.
“The simpler you keep it, the better it becomes,” he said. “You can get carried away by the pace and bounce but for seamers you need to be ultra-disciplined here.”
Control is something Philander has built his game on. He is known for being able to hit the area outside off for over after over, and only move the ball off the seam slightly. That is likely to be his line of attack in this series.
It’s not as emphatic as Steyn’s swing or Rabada’s pace and in many ways, it is indicative of the bowler Philander is. He does not get throbbing veins or send the speed gun above 150kph, he does not have much to say about the opposition except that they are the “11 individuals who are the best in Australia at the moment and we’ve to to respect that for what they are,” and he does not have much to say to them either.
Unlike Steyn he did not name a target or threaten to sink an entire side. He just mentioned that he is capable of not being a nice guy too, if he has to.
“Moments are going to get heated,” he said, “but you as a person have to be stay calm and collected.”
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo