It wasn’t a fairy tale ending for Vernon Philander as a grade two hamstring tear allowed him to bowl only nine deliveries in his last Test innings. He finished the Test with figures of 2 for 50 in 21.3 overs as the Proteas succumbed to a 3-1 series loss against England, their successive series lost against the visitors at home and third in this century. It was a below par series for the fast-bowler as he could pick only 8 wickets at an average 26.62.
Philander’s overall record on paper might not look as impressive when compared to greats like Glenn McGrath or James Anderson, but he still holds a place with the greats of South African cricket. He finishes seventh on the list of all time wicket-takers for the Proteas with 224 victims in 64 matches at 22.32.
Philander burst on to the Test arena in 2011 and made an impression straight away by picking 14 wickets in two Tests against Australia. Following this, he picked up 16 scalps against Sri Lanka. He continued his rich form in New Zealand as well where he bagged 21 scalps in three Test matches. During this, he became the fastest to reach 50 Test wickets - reaching the milestone in his 7th Test. Here is a look at his outstanding numbers from his first three years in the Test arena.
Philander's numbers in 2011, 2012 and 2013
One of the main reasons for Philander’s success was his knowledge about his own game and limitations. He never had vicious pace or hostility like his teammates Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. He relied mainly on hitting a consistent line and length for long periods of time and duped batsmen with slight movement inwards or outwards.
When asked about the mantra behind his success, Philander said: “When you don't have pace, you need other skills to come to the party. Over the years, you learn the more consistent you can be, irrespective of what pace you bowl at, you will be effective. We just have to make sure we are not just worried about pace all the time.”
Philander was lethal with the new ball and was unplayable on pitches which offered him assistance. With the old ball, he provided valiant support to Steyn and Morkel by drying runs at one end, creating pressure on the batsmen with his immaculate line and length. Alongside Steyn and Morkel, he formed one of the most potent three-pronged pace bowling attacks the game has ever seen.
Graeme Smith, the former South African captain, had nothing but praise for Philander. He said: “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. One of the many things that have stood out for me with Vern is his character, his determination and the way that he has always been up for a fight and a challenge has shown the heart of the man.”
Keeping his bowling prowess aside, Philander was no mug with the bat in hand and contributed many times in the lower order. His contributions of 61 and 35 at Lord’s in 2012 in the first and second innings respectively were pivotal in the context of South Africa winning the series and eventually, the Test mace. He scored eight half-centuries during the course of his career.
His first form slump came in 2014 when he managed to get only 16 wickets in 8 games. It was a combination of injuries as well as on and off-field controversies. One of the controversies occurred in the Galle Test in 2014, when he was charged 75 percent of his match fee by the ICC for ball-tampering.
From February 2014 to November 2015, Philander featured in 12 matches and could only pick 21 wickets. In this time period, he played 5 Tests in the sub-continent (Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh) and looked ineffective on low dusty tracks.
Although, at the back end of his career, he wasn’t as potent as in the past mainly due to a string of injuries. However, the control and command over his line and length was exemplary. In the last two years, his average has been on the higher side which shows his wicket-taking ability took a nosedive. The control in his bowling wasn’t lost since his economy rate has been 2.40 towards the end.
For now, Philander has signed a Kolpak deal with Somerset for two years but he intends to come back to South Africa in a coaching role to help and impart his knowledge to aspiring young bowlers. For this purpose, he has also set up an academy.
Who knows what Philander could have achieved if he wasn’t halted by injuries in his career but he surely is leaving behind a huge void which will be hard to fill. Farewell, Vernon Philander.