Jacques Kallis was indeed a jack of all trades (excuse the pun). For years the South African carried his team on his broad shoulders. The kind of Test all-rounder that teams around the world still search for endlessly, Kallis will always be a legend of the game. When he retired he was South Africa’s highest run-scorer (still is) and fifth highest wicket-taker in Tests.
And so there had to be a void. For long they’ve tried combinations and tried to fit in an all-rounder to go with the team balance in Tests, but have never really found someone as capable and reliable as him. But at Trent Bridge, after a massive 340-run win against England in the second Test, South Africa captain Faf du Plessis was way too impressed by Vernon Philander, thought otherwise.
“He is becoming the new Jacques Kallis the way he is batting. We joke about it because his technique is becoming the same as Kallis’ as well,” du Plessis said.
South Africa’s huge win against England came after a week’s after their 211-run defeat at Lord’s, in what was Joe Root’s first Test as captain. While Philander, a regular in South Africa’s Test side, was part of the team at Lord’s, du Plessis wasn’t; he had gone back home for the birth of his child. Vernon Philander took 3 wickets, scored 52, and 19 not out in the Lord’s Test, his fourth Test in England.
At Trent Bridge, Philander went one notch higher. He posed a threat throughout, got left-handers Keaton Jennings and Gary Ballance, one bowled through the bat-pad gap, the other leg before off a delivery that straightened. He took 2 for 48 in the first innings and 3 for 24 in the second. But it wasn’t just his performance with the ball that has started this talk of him being compared to Kallis.
With the bat, he scored 54 and 42, crucial contributions, in the context of the game. What’s more resounding about him as a batsman is that he applies himself as a batsman. For someone who has been looked upon as a fast bowler throughout his Test career, Philander does take his batting seriously, or so it looks. His technique looks sound too. And add to that the temperament the 32-year old has shown in the England series so far has been excellent. Just when England think they’re now penetrating into the tail-end of the South African batting line-up, in comes Philander and frustrates the bowlers. With the way he’s batting, he might even get his maiden-Test hundred too this series. Who knows.
“In this game, he had a new challenge on his shoulders. We left a batsman out to play two all-rounders and with that comes extra responsibility on his shoulders,” du Plessis said. “We gave him the promotion to seven because I back his technique and his batting and he responded beautifully by getting crucial runs for us. The ball will always be the ball for him, he is a machine but now he is doing it with the bat as well,” the South African skipper added.
While Philander with the ball will always be expected to do what Philander with the ball is capable of doing: Both moving it away and into the batsman; his coming of age with the bat is a fine sign for South Africa, never mind the comparisons to Kallis. “Absolutely not,” he said when compared to Kallis.
But bowling will always be Philander’s main job, and du Plessis was right. Philander has always been there, to deliver, with the ball, whenever his team has needed him. Having been under the shadow of Dale Steyn, Philander has led the bowling attack for the Proteas, for some time now. Steyn’s injured shoulder has kept him in and out of the Test side enough for Philander to become South Africa’s go-to bowler. With accuracy, line and length, combined with his biggest strength: discipline, Philander has made a name for himself.
Along with the hardworking Morne Morkel, the prodigy that Kagiso Rabada is, and spinner Keshav Maharaj, Philander is a big chunk in South Africa’s solid and formidable bowling unit. Together they have the power to dismantle the best of batting units. But it is Philander who keeps them ticking.
And now that he’s alive and kicking, playing match-winning roles, he could be an even bigger threat for England with two Tests to go and the series at 1-1.
To be honest, Philander might not be the new Kallis, but Philander is Philander. What Philander is, many cannot be.