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Rolling back the year with cricketer Vernon Philander

South African Vernon Philander was part of Pakistan’s coaching team for the T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in October this year.

South African Vernon Philander was part of Pakistan’s coaching team for the T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in October this year.

Published Jan 2, 2022

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Cape Town - In 2021, the world got to see a side to Vernon Philander we never dreamed we would. Obviously, when we say "we", we mean proud South Africans. The former Proteas paceman was in the green and gold again. Except, this time, it was in the colours of the Pakistan's national cricket team.

In their pursuit of T20 World Cup glory, the Asian nation roped in the 36-year-old as a bowling coach on a consultancy basis. And why wouldn't they? Philander is hot property. Plus, he’s a bank of institutional knowledge. This was fantastic recruitment for Pakistan in their quest to lift the trophy in the shortest format of the game.

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“For me, personally, the highlight of the year would be working with Pakistan, being afforded that opportunity to work with an international team, especially at such a young age,” explained Philander. “I don't think there’s many guys that would have stepped out of the game into a consultancy or coaching role. For me, it was a massive experience and a privilege.”

Philander spoke passionately about this “massive opportunity” and described it as one “I wouldn't exchange it for anything in the world”.

“The first week, when I got to Lahore, I did a lot of observations. The players’ tendencies, their behaviour. You have to allow people to feel comfortable around you. And then, slowly but surely, you start to infiltrate their space. A big eye-opener for me was  learning to understand cultures and backgrounds.

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“The guys really felt at ease having myself and a guy like Matthew Hayden (former Australian cricketing great) around because we really opened up the space to let them be themselves. From a religious point of view, we had big respect for their prayer times. There was a massive synergy in terms of respect. And that goes a long way. I am talking over and above the skills set that one needs to go out and perform.”

Philander's influence on the team was tested right off the bat in the squad's opening World Cup assignment in the United Arab Emirates in October.

“That first game against India was like the World Cup final,” he said. “It’s probably the biggest sporting spectacle that I’ve been a part of. And just to see the unity in the team, the camaraderie among the guys was amazing.”

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Indian cricket fans are probably still hoping the match is erased from memory. Pakistan didn’t just outplay them, Pakistan destroyed them. The 10-wicket win was one of Pakistan’s biggest against India.

A result made all the more special considering the restrictions in the camp.

“It was tough, with the (Covid-19) bubble life. We couldn't leave our hotels,” said Philander. “You see the same faces day in and day out. There were times that we were only allowed to use the gyms and swimming facilities for two hours a day. There was a lot going on. But the way the guys handled it was fantastic. We created a wonderful working relationship.”

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Pakistan’s T20 World Cup campaign ended in the knock-out stages. But with a another tournament on the horizon in October, Philander and his band of merry-men will have another opportunity to try and clinch the trophy in Australia.

“There’s plenty happening at the moment, including talks around consultancy work with Pakistan,” he said excitedly. ”We're trying to finalise a way that works for both parties. Because at the moment, travelling and being isolated and being in the hotel with bubble life, I just don't think it is sustainable in the long run. And I need to look after myself, especially since I have a young family. So I need to weigh up options and manage my time properly.“

A little over 10 years ago, Philander made his debut for South Africa. In December 2019, he announced his retirement, and after the series with England, he waved goodbye to a sizeable fan club around the world.

Philander had served the national team with distinction. Would it not be nice to see Philander in Proteas kit again? Would it not be nice to see Philander blooding the next batch of South African bowlers? Would it not be nice to see Philander on the coaching team of our nation? He insists “the door is not closed to Cricket South Africa”.

“I just think Cricket South Africa needs to get its house in order. I’m always going to be around, and I’m always going to want to see the young guys blossom. I want to make sure we look after our talents in South African cricket, and I want that to be the end goal. We're a country that has so much to offer, but from a management point of view, we’ve sometimes gone in the wrong direction. But I’m never going to turn my back on South Africa.”

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