Faf du Plessis, the South Africa captain, lamented Vernon Philander’s lack of fitness after his side’s Test series loss to England on Monday (August 7). The hosts’ 177-run victory in the fourth Test at Old Trafford saw them secure a 3-1 triumph in Joe Root’s first series as skipper.
But a four-Test contest played largely in the kind of overcast conditions in which Philander thrives might have been a very different story if the key seamer had remained fully fit throughout.
Philander,32, appeared poised for a brilliant campaign after taking five wickets and making scores of 54 and 42 in a Man-of-the-Match display during South Africa’s 340-run series-levelling win in the second Test at Trent Bridge.
But he was struck down by a mystery virus that reduced his effectiveness in the third Test at The Oval and then did not even make the team at Old Trafford because of a back problem.
It was not the first time Philander, whose overall Test record of 171 wickets in 46 Tests at an average of 22.45 is outstanding, had failed to complete a series, and du Plessis’s patience appeared to be wearing thin.
Also Read: Root impressed by England’s resilience
“For us to have competed and to win Test matches we needed Vern, you need your best players,” he told reporters following South Africa’s first Test series loss in England since 1998.
“Duanne (Olivier) bowled well this game but Vern is one of the best in these conditions, probably the best in seaming, swinging conditions which has been the case in all four Test matches, so not having him here was very frustrating and disappointing.
“The last I spoke to you (the media) I said he’s just got to do a small fitness test but he’ll be fine. So when he woke up with a stiff back the next morning it was frustrating,” the middle-order batsman added.
“It is a challenge for Vern because it’s happened too often that he doesn’t play a full series,” du Plessis explained. “I’ve spoken to him about that and he’s accepted the challenge and that he needs to improve that. We have important series coming up, not that we play series that are not important, but India and Australia at home – it’s eight Test matches and he needs to be fit to get through all of them.”
Meanwhile, the South African skipper said he liked what he has heard about their potential new head coach Ottis Gibson.
Gibson, the current England bowling coach, has been tipped to succeed Russell Domingo, whose contract with Cricket South Africa expired after their tour to England.
“I have asked the England team for their thoughts on Ottis, and they’ve given me positive feedback,” du Plessis said. “I believe (England’s) players are good judges, and will be honest with their reflections on a guy (and whether) he’ll work as a head coach.
“They’ve said some really good, positive things about him. Personally, if he is going to be the guy, we have to get to learn about each other first.”
Meanwhile, Trevor Bayliss, the England head coach, indicated he was getting ready for life without Gibson as a member of his backroom staff.
“I only found out from you guys (the press), that’s the first we’d heard of it,” said Bayliss of British media reports linking Gibson with the South Africa post. “There’s nothing been finalised yet.
“I’m at a loss at the moment whether it’s a go-ahead, we haven’t heard for sure. By all accounts, it sounds like it.”
Meanwhile, du Plessis said he had held talks with CSA chiefs about the future identity of the South Africa coach.
“There were conversations,” he revealed. “The first was ‘were we happy with Russell?’, and the guys said yes. Then it was the panel’s decision to try and see if there was someone they could see who would possibly take the team forward.
“I just gave my input, where I said I think Russell is doing a good job at the moment… but if there is someone who can challenge the team more, by all means go and look who’s out there. That decision will only be made, as far as I know, when it gets to the board.”
This was a difficult tour for Domingo, who had to fly home after his mother was involved in a car accident and return again when she died of her injuries.
But du Plessis said the upheaval and general uncertainty over Domingo’s future could not account for a poor run of results.
“I can’t use that as an excuse. The coaching staff have been brilliant and they haven’t been sidetracked by what was going on.
“If it ended for Russell like this then it’s a disappointing way to send him off with the players not performing. He’s been a crucial part of what we’ve been doing for the last while and we didn’t play well.”
Du Plessis also urged the need to move on and get ready for a future without AB de Villiers. “We all know how good AB is, and we missed him, but we’ve spent too much time talking about ‘when is AB going to come back?’
“The hope of him coming back is something I think we need to move past… If AB comes back it’s a huge bonus, but I don’t expect it.