Somerset County Cricket Club have made the shrewd acquisition of Vernon Philander on a year by year contract, initially for 2020. The details of the deal have yet to be disclosed. But, irrespective of this, the signing has to be judged a good piece of business by the county.
Philander returns to Taunton eight years after his brief spell at the start of the 2012 season. He follows Alfonso Thomas as a South African pace bowler who will play under the Kolpak regulations. If Philander can be as successful as the “Great Alfonso” was Somerset supporters would be very happy.
The significant difference from 2012 will be that Philander will be a Somerset player free of the control of his international board. Jason Kerr will be able to manage the player’s workload to the maximum advantage of the county.
Kolpak signings remain a divisive issue. The proliferation of such players in the county game since the decision in 2003 has undoubtedly hindered the development of many young English players. Some have argued that Philander’s signing will be as a block to the progress of Academy graduates.
Against this point, there are, I believe, two significant mitigating factors.
The first is that Somerset lost Tim Groenewald at the end of last season. The second is that the demands of the 2020 season, especially the absence of several of the pace attack during the peak of the summer, will put additional pressure on the county’s seam attack. The attitude of the other members of the squad has to be to learn from the South African and attempt to outperform him and demand selection. Somerset have a Championship to win. If Philander can emulate the performance of Morne Morkel in his first season for Surrey the possibility of that utopia will be significantly enhanced.
What is not in question is that Philander is a quality performer at the highest level. He is currently proving a handful for England’s top order and will be, in all probability, even more effective in early season English conditions. Somerset will be well aware that Philander does his best work with the new ball and in the first half of opposition innings.
He will however, need to be managed carefully by Somerset. He will turn 35 during the English season and is no longer a bowler of delivering 20+ overs day in day out in the Championship. Rotation will be key for several of Somerset’s pace attack next season with Lewis Gregory, Jamie Overton and Jack Brooks will all benefit from the workload in red-ball cricket being spread around.
Will Philander be seen in white-ball cricket for Somerset in 2020? As far as the T20 is concerned I am doubtful. He never was the most agile fielder so the demands of the shortest form may be too much at 34. His career T20 record of only 92 wickets at 31 and an economy rate of a shade under 8 hardly demand his selection.
But the one-day cup could be a different matter. Playing Philander would provide the platform for the Lewis Goldsworthy, Ben Green and Casey Aldridge to learn their trade at a higher level. Add in Jamie Overton, Josh Davey, Jack Brooks and a spin contingent of Bess and van der Merwe and Somerset supporters could begin the dream of retaining the trophy.
Whether Philander is a success in Taunton or not remains to be seen. What cannot be denied is that Somerset continue to be a club that can attract top talent and that should be a source of great optimism for the future.