We’ve spent much of the morning trying to work out what kind of a vehicle Vernon Philander is. After much thought, we’ve concluded that he’s not a vehicle at all – he’s a pepper grinder.
South Africa have a lot of whizzy, fancy kitchen gadgets. Dale Steyn is the luxury coffee-maker you always look forward to putting into use; Kagiso Rabada is a new vegetable juicer – novel and good for you, but might yet break down; and Morne Morkel is a big gallumphing lankatron of genial ferociousness who would do all the chopping and dicing you asked of him even though his rampant gigantism puts him in a decent position to say no to anyone at any time.
Philander, by contrast, is a low-key functional object who does his job perfectly.
You need some pepper? Use the grinder – there’s some pepper.
You need someone to bowl at the top of off stump, hitting the seam with every damn delivery? Use Vernon Philander – there’s 152 Test wickets at 21.65.
Philander was away for a while. When he returned, he looked solid-of-midriff and you got the impression that surely now his logic-defying brand of medium-pace would be found out.
Not so. It just never seems to work out like that. People always expected his Test bowling average to swell like a spacehopper at altitude following a few series away from home, but it never really did.
His home record is superior – as it is for almost all players – but his away record is 57 wickets at 25.35. That is, basically, earth-shattering. If it’s built on wickets taken in New Zealand and England then only in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe is his record actually outright bad – and that’s only three Tests.
Vernon Philander endures. Toastie makers and waffle irons may fall into disuse, but pepper will always be ground.
Clinical dobbery can take a bowler a very long way.
Photo by Sarah Ansell
We’re approaching the fifth anniversary of The Day. It’s just a little reminder that life’s really all about the little things – little Australian innings that don’t last very long, specifically.
That seems unlikely this year, what with them being up against Jason Holder and whatever the poor lad can wring out of his team-mates – which of late has been not-all-that-much. Perhaps more intriguing is the South Africa v England Boxing Day Test.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of Jacques Kallis was to make his own bowling appear surplus to requirements. By permitting a five-man attack, he ensured the frontline bowlers could stay fresh, sharp, keen and injury-free. They paid him back by regularly bowling sides out for not-all-that-much meaning he could concentrate on his preferred pastime of standing still at slip.
However, without Kallis the balance has shifted slightly. If Steyn and Morkel have appeared unaffected, perhaps it is not there where the slack has been taken up. Vernon Philander averages 42 in 12 matches since Kallis’s retirement versus 22 over the course of his Test career. You could also argue that Steyn is missing more Tests than he was as well.
England of course have a surfeit of all-rounders. Batting down to number eight is the obvious advantage, but there’s also the fact that they can share the workload, which is handy when there’s a frankly ludicrous two day break between Tests.
But the festive period isn’t about getting a break. It’s about purchasing food, tidying the house a bit and then skiving your writing obligations on the first day of the Test because there’s beer to be drunk and you’re back in work in a day or so and need to consume as much as you can, while you can.
Happy Festivus. May the traditional airing of grievances go smoothly and may you evade serious injury during the feats of strength.
Other than Angus Fraser, few bowlers have appeared to do it as penance.
Many people’s definition of an all-rounder is that they should average more with the bat than they do with the ball. Vernon Philander isn’t a million miles away from that and his batting average is only 7.75.
His bowling average is 12.82 at the time of writing. Being as the website’s barely working at the minute, that figure will be totally wrong by the time you read this, but still, you get what we’re saying.
If you don’t get what we’re saying, we’re saying that Vernon Philander has a very low bowling average.
A few Tests away from home will see his figures fatten up like a family that’s just moved to the United States, but for now he can feel pretty pleased with himself and South Africa can stick with their entirely unexpected plan of having Dale Steyn as a supporting act.