101 Test matches, 269 wickets, 13 five-wicket hauls and two 10-wicket hauls give one a proper impression as to how good Vernon Philander has been over the years.
In a game that has elevated the careers of the likes of Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne, and Glenn McGrath, the overall record of Vernon Philander in Protean colours seems to be pale in comparison. His fellow teammates Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada have grabbed a lot more of the limelight, but one can argue that Philander did not receive the respect that he deserved.
In recent times, while all the attention was lasered in on South Africa’s slump from leading the Test series against England to eventually losing it 1-3, there was no talk of Philander hanging up his boots, and the decision to call time on his career was a sudden halt and a tame end to the pillar of strength that he has been to the South African side over a decade or so.
Having made his national team debut in 2007, Philander did not make too much of an impact as a result of which many questioned his selection into the Test team in 2011. However, he proved everybody wrong by scalping 50 wickets in 7 games.
Post his retirement, Philander recalled a few incidents from his career -
"I was just honored to be receiving my Test cap. I haven't thought about what was going through my mind at the time… You find yourself up against a formidable Australian side that would have played very good cricket over a day and a half.
I got to bowl midday on Day 3 and I still remember we had our backs against the wall after being bowled out for 90 odd (96 all out) ... Dale and I laughed at each other and said ‘we have to bowl them out for a 100 to stand a chance.’
Little did we know we will bowl them out for 47. It was one of those fairytale Test matches that you always talk about when you are done with the game. It's probably the impossible come possible... That's exactly how I saw that Test match. To come from behind and win the game was a great start to my career, looking back''.
Surely Philander never possessed any element to become a household name - he did his job quietly and never let the glare come on him in a rather successful and long career at the highest level of cricket. There have hardly been lavish or extravagant moments of adrenaline rush with him being at the forefront.
However, with the ball in his hands, Philander was an understated master of his skill and had the likes of Steve Smith, Virat Kohli, and Joe Root adapt to their style of play to counter his ability to swing the ball both ways.
The quiet jog towards the wicket-keeper after dismissing some of the best batsmen was one of his biggest traits, quite contrary to the fiery, aggressive celebrations. He was always one man who made the ball do all the talking.
A closer look at his statistics will give us a better picture of his significance as a world-class fast bowler. He may not be remembered 10-15 years down the line but his absence will be felt when South Africa need those early wickets and that's where Philander made the most impact.
146 wickets in home games and 78 away with an average of 22.32 throughout 100+ Tests is no mean achievement and this is to go with his overall tally of 13 five-wicket hauls and two 10-wicket hauls.
Philander will go down in memory as someone who surgically and with precision broke down the techniques of the best batsmen in world cricket. That is something not every bowler in the world can be credited with.
South Africa's 7th highest wicket-taker, Philander was a standout bowler in a country known to produce fast bowlers of the highest pedigree. But, can we even think of likening him with Shaun Pollock, a bowler with similar style and approach to his bowling?
There’s little fun in dabbling with no-brainers. And equally important to not ignore what’s evident albeit slightly unsung. He was impressive with the bat as well and provided some crucial runs lower down the order.
Philander managed to score 1779 runs at an average of 24.04 with eight fifties to his name, including crucial knocks that have saved his side from crumbling or falling to small totals.
Vernon Philander did enough in his way to demand a place purely on his own, and is one of the biggest reasons why Kagiso Rabada has had tremendous success in his career thus far. A lot of credit must go to Philander for patiently and sometimes painfully carrying the burden of the Proteas hopes on his able shoulders, especially in the last two years.
South African cricket fans can provide an honest narrative about Vernon Philander and his greatness in the game of cricket while being an unassuming performer and an unsung hero of huge proportions.
His attributes as a cricketer never saw him labelled as an aggressive pacer. His ability to swing the ball both ways and get to zip around even on flat belters was the differentiating factor.
For the most part of his career, Vernon Philander played with the reverberating legacy of South African pace bowlers surrounding him and trying to weigh him down as an international cricketer. The sheer brilliance of his skills as a swing and seam bowler earned him wickets in the purest form imaginable. This was clearly evident when he spearheaded Australia's capitulation on his Test debut at Cape Town.
There have been moments of stumps cartwheeling and batsmen having to walk to the wake of a perfectly pitched outswinger or a menacing inswinger delivered just at the right time. And it would be delivered at a modest speed of 130-135 km/hr, such was the quality of his swing bowling.
With some characters caught up viciously in the hyped image of greatness, Philander excelled at swing bowling and won games for his side. With South Africa still trying to overcome the repercussions of Morne Morkel’s retirement, Vernon Philander walks into the evening of his career when South Africa have had their roots as a sturdy and hard to beat international team put into question.
They looked haplessly inadequate against India in India, losing all games by an innings and then followed that by completing submitting to the Pommies on home soil, a series result that has made many analysts and experts call for Faf Du Plessis’s resignation as the skipper of the Proteas.
Vernon Philander was a trusted ally for South African captains, as he seldom allowed the opposition to score quick runs, thereby allowing the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel could come in and play the role of enforcers to the advantage of South Africa especially in-home conditions. His biggest strength was his accuracy and a great semblance of knowledge about his strengths as a bowler.
Surely, the gritty performances that Vernon Philander delivered have elevated him to the status of a role model. And one thing is for sure. With swing bowling in focus, one can expect young and upcoming pacers to use the Philander template as an option when compared to making a career out of raw pace.