26 March 2012
In Dale Steyn, South Africa boasts the number one test bowler in the ICC rankings, and he has been there for some time. However, his position could soon come under pressure from a relative newcomer to test cricket – Steyn’s fellow new-ball bowler, Vernon Philander.
The 26-year-old Cape Cobras’ seamer has made an astonishing impact since he made his test debut against Australia in November 2011. On Monday, in the third test against New Zealand in Wellington, which ends on Tuesday, he reached 51 test wickets in only his seventh test.
The record for the fastest player to 50 test wickets belongs to Australia’s Charlie Turner, but his milestone was achieved in another era, way back in 1888, when average scores were far lower, batting pitches much less kind to batsmen, and wickets fell at far faster rates.
ICC bowling rankings
Already, Philander is ranked ninth in the ICC test bowling rankings. And he has yet to complete his seventh test.
He is by no means an out-and-out paceman, but he possesses nagging accuracy and the ability to move the ball equally effectively away and into batsmen. He is also able to achieve above average bounce, which means plenty of nicks for the players fielding in the slip cordon.
Remarkably, considering that he is playing in only his seventh test, Philander has already picked up six “fifers”. His successive six-wicket hauls against the Black Caps also mark only the fourth time the feat has been achieved by a South African bowler, following in the footsteps of Syd Pegler, Hugh Tayfield and Makhaya Ntini.
His test average is a ridiculous 13.59.
‘Bowling form is like batting form’
“Bowling form is like batting form. If things go for you, you make sure you keep doing it (and) that’s what I’m doing,” Philander told reporters in Wellington.
He also praised the rest of the Proteas’ bowling attack, saying: “This attack gives me the freedom to do what I need to do. We’ve got guys who can keep it tight, they keep a hold on the game and give me the chance to strike all the time and to put my skill on show.
“It’s a special squad and a special bowling unit that we have. It’s all coming together.”
In his first series against Australia, Philander led all wicket-takers with 14 wickets at an average of 13.92 in two matches. That included a haul of 5 for 15 in the first test in Cape Town as Australia were skittled for only 47 in their second innings.
In the Proteas’ winning three-test series against Sri Lanka that followed, Philander was once again the leading wicket taker, despite missing the second test, which South Africa lost. He claimed 16 victims at only 12.62 and also captured 10 for 102 in the first test in Centurion, which South Africa won by an innings and 81 runs.
In the current season against New Zealand, Philander is a full 10 wickets ahead of the next highest wicket taker on either side, with 21 wickets to his name at only 14.09. His 6 for 44 in the Black Caps’ second innings in the second test in Hamilton helped South Africa to a big nine-wicket victory.
Three to two
In the three series that comprise Philander’s career, he has taken 51 wickets. Dale Steyn, easily the leading bowler in the ICC rankings, has picked up 34 in that time, meaning Philander has taken three wickets for every two that Steyn has captured.
It is doubtful that Philander will maintain such amazing success throughout the duration of his career, but that is more a comment on today’s batsmen-friendly pitches than his ability with the ball. He has, however, set the stage for an exciting and very successful test career, despite his rather late start in the five-day international game.
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