Big Vern’s test to remember
England’s Alastair Cook, Ben Stokes and Toby Roland-Jones may beg to differ, but for South Africans keen on taking a moral victory of sorts from the Proteas’ third test against the Poms, this game will be remembered as Vernon Philander’s.
Cook’s 88 set the foundation for England to score 353 on a tricky wicket that always had something in it for the bowlers; Stokes’ 112 continued to mark him as a thorn in the Proteas’ side; and Roland-Jones’ all-round performance (25 and 5/57) on debut all grabbed headlines during the first three days of this test.
But, in keeping with the durability of a Kennington Oval stadium hosting its 100th test, it was Philander’s tilting at windmills in a patchy South African performance that caught the imagination.
Having gone into the game feeling crook – he was diagnosed with a viral infection and hospitalised on day two – Philander had an upset stomach and vomited his way through bowling spells during England’s first innings in one of the more silently brave performances in history.
As ill as he was, his 2/32 off 17 overs from his naggingly accurate seamers was still the pick of South Africa’s bowling given that it was the nearest thing to a consistent blowtorch examination of the hosts’ techniques.
When his team was in trouble overnight at 126/8, he ripped out his drip and got discharged from hospital to muck in with an unbeaten 10 before South Africa were dismissed for 175 – 178 runs behind in spite of Temba Bavuma’s half-century heroics.
For some reason, cricket fans have always been suspicious of “Big Vern”. Maybe it’s the constant hint of a boep, but the sturdy Philander has always been told that he’s either not fast enough, can’t bowl on surfaces that don’t suit his bowling or has ineffectual third and fourth spells.
Yet, in the first three days of this test, he laid his durability and courage bare for all to see by taking receipt of the ball when he should have been hallucinating in bed.
But all of that looks as if it may have been in vain as England go into day four today on 74/1, 252 with nine wickets remaining after three rain-interrupted days, which curtailed the hosts’ second innings after only 21.2 overs.
If the visitors are to somehow salvage something from the game, it’ll probably come from the meddling rain. Well, that or another dip into Big Vern’s bottomless well of fighting reserves.