With the exit of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander has emerged as South Africa’s key pacer for the three-match Test series against hosts India starting from October 2. An injury-marred career notwithstanding, Philander has been one of Proteas’ strike bowlers at home, ever since his Test debut in 2011. However, operating in sub-continent will be a different ball-game for the right-arm pacer.
At an average of 18.65, Philander has 138 wickets, including nine five-wicket hauls, from 32 matches in South Africa. Whereas in Asia, he has just 14 wickets from eight matches, at an average of 32.42. Not many fast bowlers have mastered the art of succeeding on sub-continent tracks that are slow and assist spinners. Philander agreed that it will be a lot of hard work in the next one month.
“The conditions here will be spin-friendly. There is no doubt about that. The seamers will be used in short bursts. We will have to make a quick impact,” said Philander.
With a natural ability to hit the right length and move the ball both ways, Philander stressed on the importance of striking early. “The new ball will be the key. The seamers will have to work hard with the new ball, and also a little later when the ball is reversing. It will be hard work for the seamers, but I’m looking forward to it,” he explained.
By opening the attack with Kagiso Rabada, one of the exceptional talents to have risen to the top from South Africa in the recent times, Philander looks to form a lethal pair. “KG (Rabada) is a wonderful prospect for South Africa. He is world-class. The two of us will lead the attack. Ngidi (Lungi) is also a great young talent. My role will go a little further than being just the new ball bowler. I will try to work out plans. We will work out how to strike with the new ball, which will then allow the spinners to come into play,” he explained.
Philander’s fitness has been a concern, with skipper Faf du Plessis and former captain Graeme Smith expressing their displeasure over it in the past. The 34-year-old said he has learnt how to cope with the demands of longer format on his body. “I am now training a lot smarter. I have realised that there is no point in wasting your time and energy on things that don’t benefit you,” he offered.
When the two countries met last time, in January 2018, South Africa prevailed 2-1 at home. With 15 wickets, Philander was the highest-wicket taker of the series. His success gives Philander confidence to challenge the mighty Indian batting line-up.
“It is good that I did well against them. It opens the fact that I can get them out. But the conditions are different here. We will have to plan accordingly,” he said.