CAPE TOWN – Newly-married Vernon Philander may have had to cut his honeymoon short this week, but former Australia opener Chris Rogers still believes the South African seamer will once again pose the biggest threat to the visitors in the upcoming Test series.
Philander has been Australia’s tormentor since debuting at Newlands in November 2011 when he claimed match-figures of 8/78, including 5/15 in the second innings to help rout the Aussies for just 47.
Although he endured forgettable series away in 2012 and at home in 2014 when the Australian batsmen learnt to be more patient against him, Philander struck back with a vengeance in the away series in 2016 when he won the Man of the Series award to lead the Proteas to a third successive series victory Down Under.
"He's incredible," Rogers said on Australia’s 91.3 Sport FM, having played three Tests against the right-armer in the corresponding series four years ago.
"With most swing bowlers they tend to angle the seam, so you kind of know which way the ball's going to go. I always found with him, his seam would point directly at you, and you never knew what it was going to do; as a left-hander, was it going to swing back into you? Or was it going to hit the seam and move away? That was his skill.
"He just does enough both ways. You're almost guessing; sometimes you're just hoping the ball hits the bat.
"If the pitches play like I expect them to, he is going to be so valuable. Because not only that, he (also) bowls so straight, he controls the run rate. It's hard to get him away. So he's going to be immensely important. And his batting, I think has improved quite a lot over the last little period."
Australia are likely to field four left-handers, including three in their top-order, in the first Test starting in Durban on Thursday which could further enhance Philander’s chances of getting those 12 wickets he needs to get to 200 Test scalps.
And although struggling with the odd niggling injury over the past 12 months, the 32-year-old showed he is approaching peak form again after taking 15 wickets at 15.86 and conceding only 2.47 runs per over in the recent series against World No 1 India.
Those matches were played on pitches that offered the bowlers plenty of assistance – even too much on occasion like at the Wanderers in the third Test – and although Proteas coach Ottis Gibson has stated that the curators for the Australian series will be left “to do their jobs”, Rogers still expects some “spicy” tracks.
"The wickets in these matches are going to be a bit spicy and I'm looking forward to that, and with two very good attacks, it's going to be challenging for the batsmen," Rogers, who was renowned for scoring "tough" runs, explained.
"I imagine it's going to be a really tough pitch to bat on. In 2014, the first match was at Centurion, and they produced a really lively one but Mitch Johnson just blew them away. That scared them I think, then they produced flat ones trying to get reverse swing. It didn't work for them then, so I think they're going to stick with the tough pitches and back their four quality bowlers.
"I think it's going to be a low-scoring match, as we saw with the South Africa-India series, but I reckon that's going to be quite exciting. And with the Australian attack, as good as it is, they'll be happy with that too.
As a batsman this is what you look forward to – the challenge. Anyone can score runs on flat wickets, but it's when you score runs and not many other people in your team score runs, they're the ones you look back on with most pride."