The Big Vern - Underappreciated on green tracks, overcriticized on flat decks

Vernon Philander with Ben Stokes
©Reuters
 

At 34, as Philander walks away from international cricket to a couple of years on the County circuit, for once, his wickets in swinging conditions at the Wanderers will not be taken for granted.


When you think of the fast bowling greats to have come out of South Africa, you think Alan Donald, Dale Steyn, Shaun Pollock and even Morne Morkel to some extent. Vernon Philander? Not really.

Looking at Philander's 222 wickets from 63 Test matches at an average of 22.29, an economy of 2.63, 13 five-wicket hauls and a wicket every 51 deliveries, it's worth to re-examine this consideration.

The rise

It was in 2009-10 when you heard of a guy called Philander. Reportedly, he was taking wickets for fun in first-class cricket and bagged 45 scalps from just 9 matches at an average of 14.73 in domestic cricket that season. It was a pity that he did not make his Test debut till November 2011.

And when he did, there was no stopping The Big Vern as he pocketed 16 wickets in two Tests against Australia. The highlight being his 5-wicket haul in the second innings of his debut match against Australia at Newlands, which saw Australia being bowled out for a mere 47.

Next up were his 16 wickets in the the two Tests against Sri Lanka. The two shining performances were followed by 21 wickets against New Zealand. And, just like that in seven test matches, Philander had raced to 50 wickets, becoming the second-fastest bowler to reach the milestone.

His then skipper and current acting Director of South Africa Cricket, Graeme Smith has dished out a complement that, in a way, summarises Philander.

"Under my captaincy Vern was like the last cog in the wheel. He was an incredible guy who came in and added to our bowling attack. His skill against left-handed batsmen was a huge thing. Being able to be effective and get us into games, allowing other people to be more aggressive and attack more because we always knew Vern was going to be reliable and give us what we needed," the former captain said.

Unplayable at home

Philander has been an absolute menace in home conditions. He has picked 144 wickets at 19.00 in South Africa, the second-best among bowlers with a minimum of 100 wickets on home soil. The result is that in the 35 home Tests that Vern has played in, South Africa have won 24.

Philander's home average is even better the the far more revered South African pacers like Kagiso Rabada (20.09), Shaun Pollock (21.08), Dale Steyn (21.62), Allan Donald (21.64), Makhaya Ntini (24.04) and Morne Morkel (26.19).

Imperious in swinging conditions

Throughout his career, Philander copped a a lot of criticism for only being effective in conditions conducive for swing bowling. With his away bowling average of 28.37 being almost 10 units higher than his home bowling average of 19, there is certainly some truth to it.

That said, there are many bowlers who have bowled in the swinging conditions of England and South Africa. How many of them stand out? Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad are a few names that you would remember from this century.

A stint cut short in ODIs

Philander did not prove to be that big a success in ODIs. Actually, his numbers belie that claim, but that he managed to play only 30 ODIs, that is pretty much what you would have to conclude at the end of the day.

He proved to be less of an all-rounder in white-ball cricket with a batting average of only 12.5. His bowling statistics though were second to none in ODIs as he picked up 41 wickets from 30 matches at an average of 24 and a miserly economy of 4.62.

Philander's current skipper Faf du Plessis was also generous in his praise of the seamer. "With Vern, it's great to know as a captain you can give the ball to someone with control. Test cricket is all about control, run-rate, putting guys under pressure through either spells where you feel you can get a lot of wickets - with Vern sometimes that is the case, when the ball is moving around, it feels like he can get a guy out at any stage or with the control factor. If the wicket is a bit slower, I know I am going to get control out of him.

"In Test cricket you don't want to be throwing the ball to someone and hope that he keeps the run-rate under 4.5, it releases a lot of pressure. I know that Vern gives me that control. He is a banker, most certainly always," du Plessis noted.

At 34, as Philander walks away from international cricket to a couple of years in the County circuit, he would want to end on a high. For once, his wickets in swinging conditions at the Wanderers will not be taken for granted.

©Cricket World 2020