GROWING up in Ravensmead in the rough Northern Suburbs of Cape Town, Vernon Philander had to overcome some tough circumstances in his youth.
The initial stages of his international career four years ago seemed to follow a similar path. Philander dropped a few high-profile catches and immediately people were questioning whether he was good enough to be in the South African team.
The criticism was directed not only at his fielding, but also at his bowling for lacking pace, and thus, it was claimed, he would never be a success at the highest level.
Upon his return to the Proteas at the beginning of the season after a three-year absence, there were still those not convinced of Philander’s abilities, despite the Cape Cobras star becoming the leading new-ball bowler in domestic cricket in the interim.
Philander, though, must have believed he had won approval of the masses when he claimed eight wickets on his Test debut at Newlands, and went even further when he claimed 30 wickets in his first four Tests. Yet the doubters continued to raise their voices and remained unconvinced this could be repeated on foreign soil.
So, when Philander claimed 6/44 on Saturday to complete his second 10-wicket match haul in just six Tests, and help South Africa to a convincing nine-wicket victory over New Zealand, he could almost have been forgiven if he had a few choice words to send out to his detractors. But unlike the supremely confident Philander seen puffing out his chest in the middle after each wicket, he was simply content with his performance.
“It’s obviously satisfying knowing that the same skills I use back home are also working abroad,” Philander said.
The plaudits were left to his captain, Graeme Smith, who paid him the ultimate compliment by comparing his young charge to former Australian great Glenn McGrath. “Vernon’s always in that area,” Smith said. “In my career, the only similar bowler was maybe a Glenn McGrath, who also was always in that area of uncertainty.”
Philander, who’d already been given the nickname Vern McGrath, because of his ability to consistently land the ball on a good length and be unerringly accurate, admitted McGrath had been a boyhood idol, but so had been our own former miserly fast bowler Shaun Pollock.
“It’s probably between McGrath and Polly.
“Those are the guys that I idolise and the ones I base my game on,” Philander said.
South African cricket’s latest sensation has certainly not changed his bowling style much over the years. Philander still bowls in the region of 132-136 km/h, lands it in the corridor of uncertainty and tries to hit the “fourth stump”.
An improvement, though, has been his overall fitness which has carried him through some long spells.
But he has also honed his craft to near perfection by not only being effective with the new ball, but also with the older ball when he returns late in the day to produce some devastating reverse swing.
“It’s something that I practised and trained for these last three years. I’ve enhanced those skills and got to understand my body, how my action works, so it’s something that I’ve got used to,” he said.
Black Caps captain Ross Taylor too had high praise for Philander: “In spite of not being all that quick, he’s quick enough to hurry you up. And when you can swing it away and reverse it in, it does become tough to remember where your off stump is.” – Weekend Argus