Saturday, April 4, 2020

Greatest South African cricketers: Vernon Philander

It says something about the proceeding years that most people couldn't tell you that a 21-year old Vernon Philander was a member of the 2007 World T20 team. I don't blame you if you do not remember. Even Gulam Bodi was probably slightly more memorable, given his spat with Kevin Pietersen. The birth of Vernon Philander the international cricketer is instead viewed as having been at Newlands 2011. Full disclosure, people. This might be my single favourite Test of all time. It all starts with Michael Clarke scoring maybe the finest hundred by a visiting batsman in the last ten years. Coming in at 40-3, with a rampant bowling attack in top form, Clarke scored 151 of the most incredible runs you could see. From the moment Clarke walked in to to the moment Australia lost their tenth wicket, 244 runs were scored. Of those, Clarke scored 151 of them. Australia were thus all out for 284, and South Africa would have been feeling reasonably confident of getting a lead here.
The Proteas were bundled out for 96, just about avoiding the follow-on. Heading into the third innings, South Africa needed something special from someone. Anyone. What happened next is one of the most incredible introductions to the world ever.

The best way to describe Australia's innings is that one minute I was making two-minute noodles, and by the time I'd finished frying my eggs (because egg noodle is the bee's knees okay) Vernon Philander had ransacked the Aussie top, middle and lower order to the tune of 21/9. TWENTY-ONE FOR NINE. Australia were suddenly one bad shot away form the worst team total of all time. EVER. In history. 
The rest of the game was relatively normal and South Afric basically cruised to a straight forward eight-wicket victory. What followed next was the most dominant stretch of fast bowling in the last 100 years. Philander followed that five-wicket haul with another one. And then another one. Next thing we knew, he was the fastest bowler to 50 wickets in the modern era. A trip to England followed and Philander won the series in the fourth innings of the final Test with a magnificent five-for. Then New Zealand pitched up in the middle of a rather dark phase in their cricket and Vernon rolled them for 45 runs before Dale Steyn took 6/8 against Pakistan in the best summer in South African cricket history.

He would go on to tail off if we are honest. He averaged over 40 in 2014 and 2015. He got hurt often. He was the subject of the controversial 2015 World Cup selection. There are many things that can be brought up and critiqued and noted. Yes, he was not as good when the ball stopped moving. Yes, he was not quite fast enough to really trouble batsmen with an older ball. But for two brilliant years during the beginning, batsmen were packing their things as soon as they took guard.

Thank you Vernon.

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