LONDON – Vernon Philander came to The Oval on Friday feeling better than he did on day one, when he’d also had to leave the field because of what was suspected to be an upset stomach.
After a few overs, however, he again felt weak, and again had to leave the field prematurely – and then around lunchtime he left the ground entirely for a local hospital and finished the day in that facility’s care.
Mystery still surrounds what’s ailing him. The initial prognosis was a ‘tummy bug’, but that should have been out of his system by Friday morning.
Now it is suspected he may have a viral infection. Doctors will only know on Saturday morning whether he’ll be okay to play.
South Africa’s batting suffered an infection of its own on Friday, and it wasn’t just down to the overcast conditions, the grassy pitch or the force of a fired-up debutant Toby Roland-Jones.
Batting collapses have been a problem for the Proteas for two years. In the ‘dark’ summer of 2015/16, they were twice dismissed for totals of less than 100, leading to loud calls for the appointment of a batting coach.
Neil McKenzie got the job after the series defeat to England in 2016, but there have still been problems.
At Lord’s, they were spun out in less than 40 overs for 119. Here on Friday, they collapsed to 61/7 at the start of the 27th over.
McKenzie felt it was a case of conditions, good England bowling and poor decision-making by the South Africans that led to their downfall.
“I don’t think our batters will think we are side who should be 120/8,” he said. “The wicket quickened up from yesterday. (Ben) Stokes’ innings was really significant in terms of turning the momentum.
“Him getting the century – only the second century of the series so far – in that sort of fashion put the crowd in a certain position.
“You could feel the tension and the excitement that was on display, and Roland-Jones on his debut was always going to be running in (and) hitting a serious length.
“You couldn’t ask for better conditions for him, the type of bowler he is and what he represents.”
However, the discipline that was key to South Africa’s batting – also in difficult conditions – in the win at Trent Bridge was missing on Friday.
Too many players fancied playing shots when a period of circumspection was required.
Even the normally aggressive Stokes said he had to fight his way through a difficult period on Thursday evening when under dark skies, he and Alastair Cook got through 40 minutes against Philander and Morné Morkel.
“It’s one for which I had to work much harder,” Stokes said of his fifth Test century.
“On Thursday, I wasn’t feeling in very good form and Vernon had a few over me, but we knew it would be even harder for the new batsmen, so we just had to stick it out.”
Had Philander been available more on Friday, when Stokes was making hay, perhaps England would not have reached 353. “You miss his control,” said McKenzie.
“If you look at his economy rates, it’s not just about wickets – but that control and the economy rate – and I think on that wicket today and yesterday, the economy just shows we didn’t land enough balls in the right areas and ask enough questions.”
The Proteas will hope Philander can rise from his hospital bed. They may yet need his batting – they’re still 28 runs short of the follow-on target – and with more cloudy weather forecast for Saturday, they will certainly need his nagging discipline and accuracy with the ball if they are to get back into this Test.