TELFORD VICE at Trent Bridge
THRICE Vernon Philander has come to the wicket with South Africa in trouble in their test series in England, and thrice he has delivered — that’s if you add a touch of scorer’s licence and count the 19 not out he made in the second innings at Lord’s last weekend as a success.
Of course, no-one else was not out in a dismal innings of 119 that earned England victory by 211 runs with a day and more to spare.
But there’s no quibbling about the value of Philander’s 52 in the first innings at Lord’s, nor the unbeaten 54 he made on the first day of the second test at Trent Bridge on Friday.
Even Jonny Bairstow has taken notice.
“He has taken advantage of the bad balls and kept out the good ones,” Bairstow said. “The way he’s capitalised on the loose balls has been crucial.
“It also shows how important batting ability has become for frontline bowlers.”
Steady on, Mr Bairstow: best you recognise that Philander is well on his way to cracking the nod as a proper allrounder.
If that argument needs supporting evidence it is that Philander has successfully negotiated the second new ball both times he has reached 50 in this series.
That he was able to do so in the serpents’ pit of swing and seam that was Trent Bridge on Friday speaks volumes for his ability and temperament, and bodes well for South Africa’s resumption on 309/6 on Saturday.
Indeed, the balance has almost swung away from whether Philander has a test century in him and towards whether South Africa’s remaining batsmen — Chris Morris, who was 23 not out in a stand of 74, Keshav Maharaj, Duanne Olivier and Morne Morkel — have enough ability between them to get him there.
There was probably less surprise about Philander adding another chunk of runs to his career aggregate than there was about Quinton de Kock taking guard at No. 4.
Twenty times in his 32 previous test innings had De Kock batted at Nos. 7 and 8, and only once had he dared rise as high as No. 5.
But, with JP Duminy dropped, De Kock felt the time was ripe.
“Two days ago Faf [du Plessis] asked where I’d like to bat, and I said I’d like to bat four,” De Kock said. “It didn’t change much in my gameplan, obviously knowing that I might need to be a bit tighter coming up against a newer ball.
“Mentally going into it I was the same — I just kept it simple.
“I’ve always liked to bat high up but the team make-up has never allowed me to.
“With this test there were a few selection things that came up so I thought there was a gap there that they might need me for.”
You might not have credited De Kock as a man given to thinking ahead, but there he was on Friday: batting at No. 4 and making a fist of it with an innings finely balanced between defence and attack that earned him 68 runs — 32 of them hit in boundaries — off 81 balls.
It ended badly with a swipe at the first ball after tea, a wide delivery from Stuart Broad that was top-edged, cross-batted, to first slip. But we should see plenty of De Kock at No. 4 in future.
Just like the members at the Pavilion End saw plenty of him on Friday, what with their unusual vantage point low and just beyond the boundary. Or exactly where the sightscreen would be on most grounds, Lord’s excepted.
Did that present an awkward challenge for De Kock?
“You’re asking the wrong person — that stuff doesn’t bother or affect me.”
Not a lot does, it seems. Bless him for that.