CAPE TOWN – The numbers 38 and 18.23 are a potent combination. Logic tells us the former will rise at Newlands over the course of the next five days, resulting in the latter dropping even further.
These are, of course, Vernon Philander’s amount of Test wickets and average per wicket at his home ground. There are very few bowlers – if any – in the world who can boast such jaw-dropping figures.
And if it were not such a highly-politicised matter down here in the Cape, it would not be out of the realms of possibility for either the Wynberg or Kelvin Grove End to be renamed in honour of the Proteas opening bowler in the near future.
So, with all the fanfare surrounding the nature of the Newlands pitch for the first Test against India starting here on Friday, in relation to its grass covering and expected pace and bounce, it would only be sensible to hear from the hometown hero who has a Test best of 5/7 at the ground.
“I have played all my life here,” Philander told reporters on Wednesday.
“No, I wouldn’t say it’s greener (than usual). I’ve seen a lot of similar wickets and they haven’t done much. Obviously there’s a little bit of grass there, but I don’t think it's going to scare anyone.
“There’s a little bit of grass. The day is obviously hot. Tomorrow is hot. I think by the time the Test match starts, it’ll be little drier.
“The wicket changes quite quickly here. Depends on the type of wind that blows here as well. By Friday morning, it’ll be a total different looking wicket.”
Although Newlands curator Evan Flint covered the Test pitch with a strip of hessian yesterday to protect it from the blazing sun, Philander’s analysis may cause the selectors and team management a further uneasy night.
South Africa are still spoilt for choice over whether to include the extra pace bowler, batsman or all-rounder for the series opener.
There is the temptation to get Dale Steyn back in the team as part of a four-man seam attack plus spinner Keshav Maharaj, but this is countered by the fact that the Proteas have enjoyed their greatest triumphs in recent times with just three seamers and the left-armer.
Philander believes the conditions will tailor the attack the Proteas eventually do put out, but certainly recognises the fact that a three-man seam unit forces each bowler to adopt a more attacking mindset.
“Obviously, with a little grass on the wicket, who knows on Friday morning if the overheads are playing in favour, then you might consider four seamers.
“But at the end of the day, our composition of three seamers and one spinner has worked very well in the last sort of 18-24 months. Look, I think it’s a good dilemma to have when you have all your fast bowlers fit and bowling well in all three formats,” Philander said.
“If you’re going to go in with three seamers, you obviously are going to know that you have your work cut out for you.
“It just means that you obviously have to bowl them out. You’ve got to go with that mindset of taking wickets. But it’s still two days out (to the Test), so we’ll see where the wicket is at on Friday morning.”
Unlike other grounds around the country, Philander also cautioned against the expectation that the ball would zip through to wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock above head height.
The tourists are certainly preparing for such an onslaught from the Proteas pacemen, with all the batsmen visualising shots off the back foot during their preparation this week.
“They have played most of their games at home, so it’ll be interesting to see how they go in South Africa. It’s a total different ball game. We’re going to have to wait and see once they’re past the first Test match,” Philander chirped
“You are obviously playing at Newlands and you probably are going to be nicked off more times then being bounced off.
“But look, there is a bit of grass on it and everybody is talking about having a bit of pace on it, but at the end of the day… Newlands is going to be Newlands!”