• Lighting the flame

    Proteas seamer Vernon Philander needs to make this Test series against the West Indies count.

    On 18 December 2013, Vernon Philander claimed his 100th Test wicket. Philander reached the significant milestone in just his 19th Test, breaking the South African record set by Dale Steyn (20). At that point, Philander was a bowler at the peak of his powers.

    Twelve months on, however, and it’s evident that those powers are starting to wane. While nobody ever expected Philander to maintain such an incredible strike rate for the duration of his career, few will doubt that his performances in 2014 have been underwhelming.

    His stats tell the story. The Proteas have played six Tests in 2014, winning three, losing two, and drawing one. Philander has featured in all six matches, contributing just 10 wickets at an average of 59.

    Dale Steyn, Philander and others in that bowling attack all talk about the importance of the collective. I agree that the value of an individual bowler cannot be measured solely by the number of wickets he takes. But the wickets aside, it’s been plain to see that this past year the Proteas have relied too heavily on Steyn, and that Philander, for one, has failed to perform to the required standard.

    The Proteas won their series in Sri Lanka this past July, but one shouldn’t forget the series they lost to Australia in South Africa. Apart from that superb effort in the second Test against the Aussies in Port Elizabeth, inspired by a fiery Steyn, the South African bowling was, unfortunately, below par.

    This week will see the Proteas play their first Test in over four months. The good news is they will be up against a West Indies side devoid of any real confidence or form. The bad news? The Proteas are bound to be ‘ring rusty’ – considering their last Test was played against Zimbabwe in August.

    Despite his lacklustre performances over the course of 2014, Philander still boasts a formidable overall record of 115 Test wickets – at an average of 21.57 – 69 of those wickets came in South African conditions, and it’s no secret that he enjoys bowling at home.

    Philander took 10 wickets in his first Test at Centurion back in 2011. To date, he’s claimed 31 victims at Newlands, a record that includes three five-fors. Two of the next three Tests will be staged at these venues.

    The West Indies are without several star batsmen and have been plagued by off-field issues. They are ranked eighth in the world in the five-day format but even the most ardent Windies fan won’t be betting on an upset.

    South Africa are expected to win the series. And yet, the quality of their performances will be more important than the results. The collective showing will be important, as will that of certain individuals who have battled of late.

    Philander has proved that he has the ability to bounce back. He is an important part of that South African attack going forward, and it’s vital that he finds form sooner rather than later. This coming series should provide him with a fine opportunity to end a disappointing year on a high.

    Photo: Backpagepix