Is Philander the final piece of the jigsaw for South Africa?

Vernon Philander has 24 Test wickets from three Tests at an average of 12.37, which is incredible. But what is more incredible is that he was never picked for South Africa until now.

Vernon Philander celebrates the key wicket of Sri Lanka's Kumar Sangakkara en route to another five-for last week

Aged 26, Philander has 275 first class wickets at an extremely impressive average of 19.37 (including his 24 Test wickets). What’s more, the swing bowler has a First Class batting average of 26.85 with two hundreds. Like I say, it’s incredible he was first picked only last month.

Have South Africa now got a balanced bowling attack suitable for all conditions and opposition?

It is widely accepted that for South Africa to become the best team in the world again, they need to find the final quarter of their potentially devastating four man bowling attack (plus Jacques Kallis).

They seem to have found a suitable spinner  in Imran Tahir, although questions still remain over the Pakistan-born legspinner with his return of only six wickets from three Tests – a quarter of Philander’s return .

Assuming Tahir does the business, the final piece of the jigsaw is the third seamer, someone who can do for South Africa what Shaun Pollock did; pitch it in the right areas, hit the seam and test the batsmen, whilst speed merchants Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn blast away from the other end.

In Philander it appears they have found their new Pollock.

Against Sri Lanka he looked like taking a wicket with every ball. His subtle variations were hugely effective, be it the standard outswinger or the infamous “wobbler”. He may even possess Pollock-like abilities with the bat, although we are yet to see such talents on the international stage.

So, in theory South Africa now possess a complete and well rounded bowling attack. Ironically, it is the established elements of the attack that seem to be showing frailties, notably Morne Morkel.

Morkel looked lost and fragile against Sri Lanka. Compared to the seemingly unfazed Philander, Morkel seems to be worrying about everything at the moment. At Centurion he was completely devoid of rhythm and looked all at sea.

Furthermore, he seems to lack the confidence necessary to succeed at the highest level. He is a bowler of undoubted talent and I’m sure Alan Donald and the South African backroom staff will be concentrating on restoring that confidence, rather than making too many technical changes.

If they can get Morkel ticking again, in tandem with Philander, Tahir and Steyn, then South Africa’s bowling will certainly be a force to be reckoned with.

By Aaron Bohlman

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