TELFORD VICE, Bangalore
REMEMBER test allrounders? They were the players who could bat almost as well as they could bowl, or the other way round.
They arrived on the first-class scene as batsmen or bowlers and left the game as complete cricketers. The standard for judging whether they had attained this status was whether they could hold down a place in the team in either discipline.
Test allrounders were not bowlers who could bat a bit or batsmen who could turn an arm over. They were batsmen as much as they were bowlers.
They were players like Trevor Goddard – who opened both the bowling and the batting – Keith Miller and Basil D’Oliveira.
Then came one-day cricket and the status of the genuine allrounder began to be eroded. Everyone needed to be able to bat a bit against bowlers who were trying to stop you from scoring rather than get you out, and even pie chuckers could get people out when they were swinging for the fences six balls an over.
On top of that, wicketkeeping became a secondary art; something that could be learnt rather than gifted by the gods in its own right. That meant keepers could be made out of batsmen. Bingo – a batsman who can keep, an allrounder by another name.
For a while, the allrounders hung in there, thanks to unstoppable talents like Ian Botham, Wasim Akram and Shaun Pollock.
But we saw what allroundering has become at the start of SA’s second innings in the first test against India in Mohali.
First the umpires emerged from the shadows and walked towards the middle. They were followed by the Indian team. Then the familiar figure of Dean Elgar was spotted.
And alongside him was Vernon Philander.
That’s right – Vernon Philander. Not Stiaan van Zyl.
Now, Philander is far down the road towards the increasingly rare achievement of being recognised as a proper test allrounder in the modern era.
But is he equipped technically and talently to opening a test innings? The question was answered with the second ball he faced when he didn’t get forward smartly enough to be able to deal with a delivery from Ravindra Jadeja and was trapped in front.
Not that Hashim Amla’s idea was without merit. What with SA harbouring a deep mistrust of the pitch, retaining Stiaan van Zyl as disaster insurance and asking Philander to reduce the target quickly made sense.
As it happened, neither Van Zyl, Philander nor anyone else in the team could save SA from crashing to India’s rampant spinners. Goddard might have had a shot at it.
However, the fact that Amla looked around the dressingroom and couldn’t see a more suitable candidate for the job than a fine fast bowler armed with some dashing strokes, a decent defensive technique and enough discipline to last a while – in other words, someone who could develop into a test allrounder – tells us all we need to know about the state of the art.
Cricket’s obsession with measuring everything about itself doesn’t help. For instance, the International Cricket Council puts out a rankings list for test allrounders that does not include many players who could seriously be described as such.
Officially, Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan is test cricket’s top allrounder. Then follows Ravichandran Ashwin, England’s Stuart Broad and, yes, Philander.
Fine test batsmen or bowlers? All. Allrounders? None.