CAPE TOWN. – You know that Novak Djokovic, the number-1 male tennis player in the world, is at his majestic best when he hits a few double-backhand winners down the line early on. You sensed Graeme Smith was in form when you witnessed a splendid off-drive for a boundary in the first two overs.
And you realize the Cape Cobras fast bowler Vernon Philander is rampant when the vociferous leg-before-wicket shouts for a delivery that nipped back into the left-hander and struck him flush on the pads, are heard repeatedly in his first spell.
Philander, though, admits he is not back at his best. He needs more overs and more game time. Justin Ontong, captain of the Cape Cobras for the match against the Sunfoil Dolphins, applauded his excellent holding role in both first and second innings at PPC Newlands during the weekend.
One of the key moments of the match came when he had Vaughn van Jaarsveld caught behind for 29 in his second spell from the Kelvin Grove end. Van Jaarsveld had blasted four boundaries, including two clinical straight drives that whistled past Wayne Parnell, the bowler.Philander dropped him off his own bowling in the first over of his return-spell, but got the business done in the second.
He finished with match-figures of 2-32, but his ability to keep one end quiet while Parnell struck from the other end, cannot be underestimated.
The South African fast bowler is not satisfied with the status quo. He describes his own bowling fitness and rhythm as about 80 or 90 %.
“I want to get back to 135 km/h or faster, but the pace is not my first priority. It is my bowling action, my landing and my rhythm. I’m not (100 %) there yet,” he said.
Arthur Turner, agent of Philander at One World of Sport, says there is no certainty yet about Philander returning to Nottingham, but another county is very interested in signing up the South African all-rounder.
“The situation is fluid and changes from one day to the next. But I’m very optimistic,” he added.
Philander has taken 126 wickets in 41 tests. In his previous test, the first against India, he produced useful figures of 1-23 and 2-38 and played the holding role excellently.
The bigger picture, though, requires the Ravensmead Wrecker to return to his best soon following a three and a half months hiatus due to a serious leg injury.
Kagiso Rabada, Morné Morkel, Dale Steyn and Philander will almost certainly compete for three fast bowling spots in the South African team when the test series starts against New Zealand in August.
The Cape Cobras off-spinner Dane Piedt has the inside lane to be inserted as slow bowler for that series.
The other option would be that South Africa could select six specialist batsmen and five bowlers, which will require the selectors to scrutinize the form of Philander, Wayne Parnell and Chris Morris as all-rounders more closely.
Philander needs more matches to improve his bowling fitness. And he said at much. “Ultimately I get bowling fit by spending time in the middle,” he added.
Philander, Parnell, Dane Paterson, Tshepo Moreki and Dane Piedt will form part of an extremely strong bowling attack for the Cape Cobras against arguably one of the very finest top- and middle-orders in domestic cricket, that of The Unlimited Titans, at Boland Park in Paarl.
The match starts at 10:00 on Thursday.
The Cobras squad is: Omphile Ramela (capt), Keegan Petersen, Lizaad Williams, Andrew Puttick, Stiaan van Zyl, Justin Ontong, Dane Vilas, Aviwe Migijima, Wayne Parnell, Vernon Philander, Dane Paterson, Tshepo Moreki, Dane Piedt.