Vernon Philander has had a phenomenal Test career for South Africa, but the Proteas need him to perform his greatest hits one last time against England, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
There’s going to ample time to cry about Big Vern’s retirement from Test cricket in the coming weeks and beyond. The YouTube videos of some of his greatest-ever spells with the red ball aren’t going anywhere.
Leave the obituaries till next week. The man is still with us, and the Proteas need him to produce one last top performance to try to save this Test series against the English.
The praises of South Africa’s champion bowler has been sung ever since he announced his retirement from Test cricket shortly before the start of this series. It’s been a bit of a farewell parade around the country, which started well in Centurion where the Proteas won the Boxing Day Test. But since then the hosts have struggled to stay afloat.
To be honest, this hasn’t been the greatest of farewells for Philander, with him picking up only six wickets so far. Four of those wickets came in England’s first innings at SuperSport Park, where the ball did a bit off the deck and he bowled with the usual precision of a surgeon – his other nickname.
He was unlucky in the last two Tests at his beloved Newlands and St George’s Park, but the conditions generally didn’t suit his style, which is why he took only two wickets in three innings.
But the deck at the Wanderers should fit Big Vern like the proverbial glove. Curator Evan Flint must make sure that we don’t see any difference between the pitch and outfield when play starts on Friday morning. Philander needs it to be green, and the Proteas need Philander to take advantage of it to have any chance of tying the series at 2-2.
The absence of Kagiso Rabada in the final Test is going to put extra pressure on Philander to lead this attack, which will feature a bunch of inexperienced quicks. The outgoing superstar needs to set the tone with the new ball like he so often has in his stellar international career.
A record of 222 wickets at an average of 22.29 in 63 matches is an unbelievable effort.
For a guy who hardly bowls the ball at more than 130km/h, it’s testimony to the unbelievable skill and intelligence he has shown over the last nine years.
At his best, Philander is unplayable. The way he set up batsmen with his guile and accuracy … it’s something that we won’t see again from a bowler in quite some time. He has been the exception to the rule in terms of the perception that fast bowlers must be six feet tall, eat dumbbells for breakfast and bowl 145km/h to be successful.
But while others used a sledgehammer, Dr Vern used a scalpel.
Hopefully for the Proteas, Big Vern can bring that magic to the Wanderers one last time this weekend. We need to see him perform open-heart surgery on the English batsmen, before ripping the ticker out of their chest to give the Proteas the best chance of winning the final Test.
After that, we can take out the tissues and the chocolate ice cream out of the fridge and cry ourselves to sleep after watching videos of Big Vern shouting ‘Catch it’ or appealing for an lbw so plumb he doesn’t even bother turning around to ask umpire approval.
We’re going to miss you, Dr Philander. But first you have to scrub up one more time and save the Proteas.