There was an immense amount of scepticism after Gary Kirsten had called Vernon Philander into the South African team to face Australia back in 2011 for the first Test. It was an unexpected selection by Kirsten and one that was met with bewilderment by some. How would this bowler fare against an uncompromising top order that had the ability to put the foundations of a win in place by lunch on the first day?
The Proteas were under no circumstances allowed to give a free ride to the bullying Australian batsmen, who would pounce on any weakness and exploit any newbie caught in the headlights. That was the cry from the South African public once it became apparent that Kirsten intended to trust the man born in Bellville in the Western Cape with the new ball.
20.8 – Of the 19 bowlers to have taken 50+ wickets since the start of 2016 in Tests, only James Anderson (20.6) has a better average than Vernon Philander (20.8). Class. #SAvIND pic.twitter.com/4B2Z9NZLYZ
— OptaJim (@OptaJim) January 8, 2018
South Africa held its collective breath as the 25-year-old ran into bowl, with the majority fearing a bloodbath. There was to be no such bloodbath, however, as Philander handled himself professionally and executed his skills well during the first innings, picking up a very respectable 3/63 as the Aussies were bowled out for 284 in 75 overs. There was carnage to follow, as the South African batsman were bundled out for 96 with the fans and media going into meltdown over the woeful batting display that handed Australia a first innings lead of 188 and the game at the same time. The rainbow nation needed a hero to restore the pride of the country.
Australia chose not to enforce the follow-on and by doing so, cleared the way for Philander to take his place amongst the greats of the game with one of the finest bowling performances ever seen as he picked up 5/15 in seven overs as the Baggy Greens were bowled out for 47. Getting to 47 was an achievement as the Proteas had Australia at 21/9. Philander was instrumental in bringing the Australians to their knees and finished with match figures of 9/78, as well as collecting the man of the match award. After being bowled out for 96, South Africa ended up winning by eight wickets.
The accolades came thick and fast after that first Test, with Philander becoming the fastest South African bowler to 100 wickets in tests, but it is his influence on the park at crucial times that makes him so valuable.
Seven years on and Philander is still the catalyst for countless victories that have looked far from a sure thing. His bowling has proven to be the inspiration that has got his team and the country believing again. During the first Test of the 2018 Freedom Series between South Africa and India, it was Philander that took responsibility and turned the game on its head.
India may have clawed their way back into the game and looked the likely winners as they only needed 208 runs in the fourth innings. Philander put any thoughts of an Indian victory to bed with 6/42 wickets in the second innings and match figures of 9/75. Crucially, Philander has helped South Africa take a 1-0 lead in the three Test series and India’s hopes don’t look promising after the Proteas bowled them out with only three frontline seamers. Dale Steyn looked on from the balcony on crutches after going down with a bruised heel in India’s first innings.
Philander’s heroics have put the Proteas into the pound seats and have given them a great chance of beating the Indians in the series with the team backed at 1/7 to get the job done. Philander will be chomping at the bit to bowl at the Indian batsman again and punters who think the Capetonian can inspire South Africa to a series win can pick up a £40 free bet from Sky Bet on Oddschecker. South Africa will be hoping to read out the last rites to India before they travel to Johannesburg for the third and final Test.
— OptaJim (@OptaJim) January 8, 2018
Philander will turn 33 this year but the medium-fast pacer shows no signs of letting up as he continues to terrorize batting lineups. In only 48 Tests he has taken 182 wickets at an average of 21.68 with a total of 12 five wicket hauls and two 10 wicket hauls.
The key to Philander’s success has been his ability to do the same thing over and over again. He may not have electric pace but what he does have in abundance is the skill to get the most out of a pitch by always being in the corridor of uncertainty. One can only imagine where South Africa would be without his 182 wickets over the last seven years. A true saviour and complete master of his craft, Vernon Philander has been South Africa’s best Test player of the past decade.