TELFORD VICE, Perth
DON’T mess with Vernon Philander. He is not the fastest bowler in the test series between Australia and SA that starts at the WACA on Thursday, nor the most flamboyant, nor is he given to the emphatic bounce, swing or seam movement that have made Dale Steyn and Mitchell Starc poster boys for the aggressive game.
But Philander was easily the most intimidating person in the room at a press conference in Perth on Tuesday.
It might have been his brooding slouch, or his arms folded resolutely across his chest, or the glare he cast downward at the gathered reporters.
Or it might have been what he said: “There are going to be times when we have to step it up and get a bit nasty. It’s all part of the game.
There’s going to be a time when a partnership will develop and it will require one or two bowlers to put up their hands and get a bit ugly and make things uncomfortable.
“That tests your character. It’s a part of test cricket – testing your skills and getting out there and winning that moment for your team. It’s going to be fun.”
Fun? Maybe if you’re in no danger of having to pad up and face that kind of music.
As one of Australia’s senior batsmen David Warner is not so lucky.
At least Australia’s vice-captain is not the snake that Dale Steyn wants to behead – as the colourful fast bowler said on Sunday about home side captain Steve Smith.
“There’s 11 players in the team and if Dale wants to start playing that game I’ll let him do that,” Warner said on Tuesday.
“For us it’s about going out and doing our best, and if he feels that cutting the head off the snake (will make) everyone else fall apart, I don’t see that happening at all.
“That’s fast bowler talk. We’re not going to entertain those thoughts or scenarios. We’re just going to go out there, back ourselves and do what we do best, and that’s play positive cricket.
“We know the conditions we’re going to face out here, so hopefully they do get carried away and start bowling short and fast – because you’ve got to bowl at the stumps to get wickets.”
That could be seen to be at odds with Faf du Plessis’ assertion during Australia’s one-day series in SA last month: “If you look at the Australian team now their personalities have changed.
“They don’t have those aggressive guys that are at you the whole day, swearing the whole day.”
Or perhaps it’s the South Africans who have taken up the reputation for hostility that the Aussies – if Du Plessis is to be believed – have discarded.
So anyone who watched the teams’ net sessions at the WACA on Tuesday and heard Philander and Warner speak would be forgiven for coming away confused.
While SA’s bowlers treated their batting counterparts with respect the Aussies tore into their teammates as if they had sworn at their mothers.
Peter Siddle and Joe Mennie were particularly aggressive, sending several deliveries thudding into the bodies of Peter Nevill and Shaun Marsh.
But Warner was not confused. For him the villain of the piece was not a particular bowler. Rather it was the environment.
“I’ve had some scars in my past at these nets,” Warner said. If you ask any player who has practised on these wickets they’re the scariest on the calendar.”
That explains it. Sort of.
We’ll have a proper answer if things turn nasty, or even ugly, where it matters: not in the nets but in the middle.