Philander the new Jacques Kallis?
Vernon Philander somewhat grumpily dismissed suggestions from his captain, that he was “the new Jacques Kallis.”
“Absolutely not,” he grunted, bringing a snort from Faf du Plessis. No one in South African cricket wants the pressure that comes with that sort of comparison – certainly not a 32 year-old who has very much carved his own niche in the international arena.
However Philander is still not regarded in many quarters as a bona fide all-rounder. That has to do with his batting mainly and a Test average of 26.13 that belies his considerable ability.
In teasing Philander with the Kallis comparison Du Plessis made reference to a technical change Philander has made with the bat – “his technique is becoming the same as Kallis as well, that back lift.”
More seriously, Du Plessis noted, was the extra responsibility Philander shouldered in the second Test as a batsman, while still fulfilling his new ball duties. “We left a batsman out to play two all-rounders and with that comes extra responsibility on his shoulders. We gave him the promotion to seven because I back his technique and his batting and he responded beautifully by getting crucial runs for us,” said Du Plessis.
In Philander’s case perhaps a truer reflection of his all-rounder status is an examination of his performances in England. In five Tests he averages 40.28 with the bat, and has scored three 50s here. With the ball, he averages 21.60. By any measure of a top class all-rounder, those numbers put Philander in the highest bracket.
A better comparison to draw for Philander would be Shaun Pollock who also batted at No 7 and used the new ball – in fact with the ball, though different in build, they are similarly blessed with the ability to exploit any assistance off the pitch.
Pollock for instance averaged 43.87 with the bat – he scored two half-centuries in England – and 25.25 with the ball.
As he did at Lord’s in 2012, Philander scooped the Man of the Match award at Trent Bridge on Monday. His runs – 54 in the first innings and 42 in the second – as instrumental in the match’s outcome as his wickets.
“Playing international cricket you’re always going to be judged and have people making comments,” said Philander. “But that’s something that we as a side put out of our minds. We’ve got a job to do, we’ve got to take 20 wickets. I’m not too fazed about personal accolades.
“As long as I fulfil my role in the side and continue to contribute with bat and ball I’m doing my job.”
Philander’s batting has not received as many plaudits possibly because he was not always called on to contribute. For a large part of his Test career, he played in a side which carried seven frontline batsmen so he wasn’t called upon to make runs too often.
In this new structure, where he bats higher up the order – albeit just one spot – he will have more opportunities to make an impact. His technique is solid, he has a very good eye and hits the ball powerfully.
As was seen at Trent Bridge, he’s no slogger, and when called upon to knuckle down late on the first day, he showed the kind of responsibility his skipper had demanded. In total he batted for 224 minutes across two innings, and in both knocks he had to face the second new ball and did so with great care and intelligence.
Du Plessis called his partnership with Chris Morris for the seventh wicket – which totalled 74 – a match winning one.
In this new structure, Philander can be expected to play a much bigger role with the bat and thus, South African supporters may start to think of him as more than just a magnificent seam bowler.
In a country which has produced many great all-rounders – Kallis, Pollock, Lance Klusener and Brian McMillan – soon we will have to include Philander.