Leading Edge: Philander — bowler, batsman, human

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE in Manchester

WE’RE all Vernon Philander. Not as bowlers: none of those who have marked out a run-up since he made his test debut in that mad game against Australia at Newlands in November 2011 — 96 all out followed by 47 all out, half of them his for only 15 — are as good at making cricket balls lie through the teeth of their seams.

“I’m shaping in,” they say sweetly, and batsmen can’t help but believe them. “Ha! Gone away. Sorry for you …”

Among modern bowlers, few have more batting ability than Philander. He marries instinct to intelligence to intent and, more often than not, reaps the rewards that come with playing proper strokes.

We are nowhere near Philander as cricketers. So, how are we Philander? As humans.

There’s a frailty to Philander that makes him one of us.

Had a fight with the boss? Ah. Happens to everybody. Let’s have a beer and talk about the obscene outrage that is Neymar’s transfer fee.

Stuck in traffic? Sterkte, mate. I’ll keep your beer in the fridge.

Woke up with stiff lower back? Careful: you wouldn’t want to, say, bowl 20 overs today.

Not that people who dodge doctors in the dressingroom to go out and bat with a broken hand would understand.

“He can’t seem to make it through series; his body is maybe not fit enough,” Graeme Smith said on Test Match Special on Friday after Philander pulled out of the Old Trafford test with, wouldn’t you know it, a stiff lower back.

“It’s been an issue but it’s becoming serious. You’re trying to build a team and if your senior players can’t get through tours then you’ve got a problem.

“He took a blow [on the hand while batting] at Lord’s and it took a crane to get him back onto the field.

“There’s been too many times where you’re fighting to get him onto the field.”

Smith said Philander needed to “find a way to front up” and spoke of “so-called injuries”.

Those words will hurt Philander, and not only because Smith was his captain in 23 tests. South Africa’s players, particularly those of Smith’s and Philander’s generation and earlier, don’t blink at hearing that sort of thing said about them by friends and foes alike.

It’s at another level that Smith’s views will hit Philander for six; that level we all know, whatever our talent — or lack thereof — for playing games. You could call it ego or you could call it what it is.

It’s the human level, which can trigger punches if the words hit hard enough and especially if they are said in a pub after a certain hour.

Whether what Smith says is true hardly matters. What does is that it’s out there, and that people will believe it.


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