Big Vern reels in the big fish

Vernon Philander’s pitch map to Virat Kohli in the second innings of the Cape Town Test is a thing of a beauty. Philander bowled 13 balls to Kohli over two spells; all of them pitched outside off, not one was full enough to drive or short enough to cut. Nothing fuller than 6m from the stumps, nothing shorter than 8m. That’s not where the beauty ends. Philander’s stock line to Kohli is not the usual fourth- or fifth-stump line usually bowled to batsmen. With Kohli, you shift the line wider because he is extremely good at the drive, and tends to play further away from his body than most batsmen. Eleven of those 13 deliveries are bowled a set of stumps wide of off stumps but not any wider.

Kohli is left frustrated. There is no length for Kohli to drive, the line is not close enough for him to take a risk, and with every ball he is moving across his stumps to try to get close to the ball. To the fifth ball of the 20th over, Kohli finally manages to move across enough to cover the line and push the ball for a single. Now the plan is reaching its final stages.

Philander comes back for the next over, the third he is bowling from the Kelvin Grove End, with the endgame on his mind. This is his home. He likes the Wynberg End. He is given the Wynberg End most of the time. This is not most of the time. Dale Steyn has injured himself. There are only three quicks left in South Africa’s attack. There is no allrounder to bowl change-up overs as Philander recovers for a new spell from the Wynberg End. South Africa can’t afford to wait here after being bowled out for 130 and setting India 208. This match has been a big gamble: an unnaturally quick and seaming Newlands pitch, four fast bowlers, batting after winning the toss. This is a match South Africa just can’t lose.