Amol Rajan: Rajan's Wrong 'un: England must be on their guard - Philander is the new McGrath

He has a mastery of the off-cutter: many of his victims are castled shouldering arms

An old cricketing adage has it that all the great seam bowlers start out as young tearaways, hurling the ball at the speed of light, before in later years slowing down, and promoting control of line and length over raw pace. Like all adages, this is only partly true.

The most celebrated example of the tendency is Sir Richard Hadlee. The great Kiwi began his career running in from a spot adjacent to the sight screen. By the time he claimed his 431st and final Test wicket, his run-up was about a quarter of that, but his mastery of swing and seam was almost peerless.

Yet many of the great fast bowlers refuse to slow down; or rather, on discovering their loss of pace, retire immediately, blaming injury instead of the fact that they have reached a certain age. Jeff Thomson, Allan Donald, Frank Tyson, Joel Garner and Shoaib Akhtar answer to this description. Famed in their youth for terrifying speed, they preferred to retire than bowl 82-83mph consistently. To do so, they felt, would be a disservice to their country, to themselves, and to cricket.

Then there is another category of great seamer who never start out quick at all. Kapil Dev never beat a batsman for pace, but he did clock up 434 Test wickets. Shaun Pollock did slow down during his career, changing his action to be more front-on and so relieving the burden on his back; but he was always a there-or-thereabouts specialist, hitting the seam and making the most of any assistance from pitch or air, rather than bowling quick.

In modern times, Glenn McGrath has epitomised this species of bowler, rightly being renowned as "the most unremarkable of all the remarkable bowlers". He boasted that his chief ambition with ball in hand was to hit the top of off-stump six times in a row, as he gambolled his way to 563 Test wickets. Now, in South Africa, a bowler has emerged who is not just being talked about in the same breath as McGrath, but has been given a nickname to acknowledge their similarities.

Vernon Philander is the most exciting seamer since Mohammad Amir. Yet his bowling is remarkably unremarkable. His colleagues call him "Verne McGrath". He has become the second-fastest bowler to 50 Test wickets in history, and given the only man to beat him was the Australian seamer C B T Turner, who set the record in 1888, that is the most spectacular start to a bowling career in the modern game. What's more, he has taken 51 wickets in seven games at an incredible 14.15 runs each, and a strike rate of 26.7.

His method, currently on display at Somerset, is basic. He bowls a full length, and when the conditions favour it his stock ball is an away-swinger (the Duke ball he uses this summer will do more than the Kookaburra he is used to). His mastery of the off-cutter is complete: many of his victims are castled when shouldering arms.

Shorter than McGrath, and with more of a collapsed front knee, he does not generate the same bounce. But he does bowl wicket to wicket, and an exceptionally good wrist action means nine balls out of 10 dart one way or the other off the wicket. Just like the Australian, who took five-fers at Lords without topping 81mph, Philander is at his best when not bowling full pelt. When he plays against England this summer, he will have Dale Steyn, the best bowler in the world, and the excellent Morne Morkel alongside him. Steyn and Morkel have actions which their bodies will rebel against within a few years.

Philander, in contrast, could play for well over a decade. If any readers want to bet a day's play at Lord's that he becomes his country's leading wicket-taker, do write in. It might be a while before we can settle; but at his current rate, not intolerably long.

twitter.com/amolrajan

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game