Vernon Philander: ‘Lots of highs and lows but that’s why you play cricket’

The retiring South African seamer recalls his debut Test, the value Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher bring as mentors, and more, in an interview.

Vernon Philander will be retiring from international cricket after the fourth South Africa-England Test in Johannesburg.   -  AP

When Vernon Philander was called up to South Africa's Test squad in 2011, his selection was met with dismay in the light of his disappointing stint in the limited-overs sides in 2007 and 2008. However, Philander proved his detractors wrong, reaching 50 wickets in seven Tests — the fastest to the landmark since 1896. He subsequently became the quickest South African to 100 Test wickets and the No. 1-ranked Test bowler in the world.

He was an important part of the Proteas pace troika, comprising Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.

As Philander, 34, prepares to walk into the sunset after the fourth Test against England at The Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg, he recalls his debut Test against Australia, the value Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher bring as mentors and more in an interview with Sportstar.

Q. South Africa has fought well in the ongoing series against England, especially after the 3-0 whitewash against India. What has brought about this change?

We had a good run in Centurion... Going into Cape Town, I felt we played really well but unfortunately got stuck with the bat a little bit and that's probably been the story of the series so far. We have to be very critical and honest with ourselves... We have let ourselves down with the bat. That said, we played at two coastal venues where the wickets were really good from the get-go. I felt you had to win the toss to be ahead of the game.

What value do Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis bring to the table as members of the coaching staff?

Both have been around for a long time. The first thing [they bring to the table] is the mindset of being calm... Putting in the hard yards to make sure you are ready for what it takes to succeed at this level. Away from the game, in the nets we have upped our intensity: that's something Mark [Boucher] is very fond of… Kallis, of course, has been a phenomenal player for South Africa all these years and trying to be calm out there whilst batting, is something that the players are picking from him.

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That said, it is a pretty young batting line up; you have got to be patient with them, lots of guys trying to find their feet at this level. It'll take time. You can't just come in and rewrite history in the space of a month (laughs) but if you can get your fundamentals right, then things can turn around pretty quickly and hopefully that's what will happen here at the Wanderers.

Talk us through your Test debut, against Australia at Newlands in 2011.

(Laughs) I was just honoured to be receiving my Test cap. I haven't thought about what was going through my mind at the time… You find yourself up against a formidable Australian side that would have played very good cricket over a day and a half. I got to bowl midday on Day Three and I still remember we had our backs against the wall after being bowled out for 90 odd (96 all out) ... Dale and I laughed at each other and said ‘we have to bowl them out for a 100 to stand a chance.’ Little did we know we will bowl them out for 47. It was one of those fairytale Test matches that you always talk about when you are done with the game. It's probably the impossible come possible... That's exactly how I saw that Test match. To come from behind and win the game was a great start to my career, looking back.

Vernon Philander had a sensational start to his Test career; he took eight wickets in his first Test, at Newlands, Cape Town, in 2011. Australia was bowled out for 47 in the second innings in that contest, and South Africa ensured a remarkable come-from-behind win. - AFP

 

There have been lots of highs and lows since but that's why you play the sport… the game's going to break you at some stage but you got to be mentally strong to make those comebacks. I've had phenomenal team-mates and captains. You need those kinds of people around to make it worthwhile to play for as long as I have. I've been grateful for all the people around me, Cricket South Africa and obviously, my family… They are the ones who pick you up after a bad day on the field.

Did you always manage to keep a straight seam, or is it something that you were coached into doing at the nets?

Yeah, I was blessed with the skill but that said, I’ve had the likes of Allan Dawson around me since my debut at Western Province... they drove home the importance of consistency. Look it takes a lot of hard work to perfect that skill and even then, there are days when you don't get it right but those performances built your character. You go back and learn, spot what you've done wrong and come back and do it better.

Can you recall any dismissal that stands out in your mind?

I always like the ones where you set up the batter. I remember running into [Virat] Kohli at Cape Town in 2018 (first Test, second innings) where I bowled across to him for two overs and then trapped him in front with the one coming back in. The highlight will always be trying and getting the top four out.

The South Africa vs England, 4th Test Day 1 will be telecast live on Sony ESPN and Sony ESPN HD from 13:30 IST.

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