Philander and Morris offer two-man solution to Kallis void
Vernon Philander had to deny the comparison Faf du Plessis made between him and South Africa's best. "He is becoming the new Jacques Kallis the way he is batting. We joke about it because his technique is becoming the same as Kallis' as well," du Plessis said.
Of course not. Kallis was South Africa's highest Test run-scorer and fifth highest wicket-taker. For more than a decade he was the ultimate luxury. Kallis gave South Africa a 12th man in an 11-man team and attempting to replace him had proved futile.
Because top-order seam-bowling allrounders are a lesser-spotted species, South Africa have had to settle for compromises in their search for team balance. Most commonly, they fielded a three-pronged pace attack with a spinner and seven specialist batsmen but occasionally they went for an all-pace line-up and sacrificed the spinner entirely. They have been reluctant to cull a batsman, except on two occasions - on a green-top in Centurion March 2014 and on a big tuner in Mohali in November 2015 - and both times it backfired badly. Now they have an exception.
Nottingham 2017 is where South Africa might have found the beginnings of a solution to the Kallis-sized problem that crops up every now and then. They still needed to find two players, but two allrounders, to do the job someone like Kallis would have done and it worked. Philander and Chris Morris scored 90 between them in the first innings and 55 in the second - more than a fifth South Africa's total runs - and took 10 wickets. Together, they played a key role in securing a crucial win.
Philander's performance with the ball should hardly come as a surprise. Since making his Test debut at the end of 2011, he has been consistently threatening with the new ball, even more so in conditions which offer a little something. In Hamilton during 2012, in Hobart last November and now here at Trent Bridge, Philander has out-bowled home bowlers and outfoxed home batsmen in their own conditions.
His strength is in his discipline. Philander lands the ball in the same area outside off stump almost all the time. It's not glamourous, it's not fast, it's not flashy and it's definitely not new-age. Philander doesn't steam in or snarl, his veins don't pop, his eyes don't dance, he doesn't bounce anyone and maybe he doesn't look like someone who should be tearing through sides. But he asks the same question over and over and over again and batsmen, especially batsmen who aren't entirely sure of themselves, don't have answers.
In this Test, Philander was particularly impressive in his approach to left handers. He burst through Keaton Jennings' bat-pad gap with a ball that came back in from off stump and then insisted on a review when he had Gary Ballance stuck in the crease and struck on the pad by a ball that straightened. Philander's instincts were correct and the review well-used.
Philander believed England's top three may continue to find it difficult to play him. "With the moving ball here it's difficult because you can't just leave me, with the odd one nipping back. I'm looking to attack off stump consistently and that makes life difficult for those left-handers."
But that is not his only job. Philander was also asked to bat a place higher than usual - No. 7 instead of No. 8 - and to contribute runs as a genuine allrounder would. It's a task he takes seriously. With two fifties in two successive matches, Philander has shown temperament top-order players would envy. His technique is solid, if not Kallis-esque, and he puts a high price on his wicket. For du Plessis that's what made Philander's Trent Bridge performance so special.
"In this game he had a new challenge on his shoulders. We left a batsman out to play two allrounders and with that comes extra responsibility on his shoulders," du Plessis said. "We gave him the promotion to seven because I back his technique and his batting and he responded beautifully by getting crucial runs for us. The ball will always be the ball for him, he is a machine but now he is doing it with the bat as well."
And it's not entirely wrong to compare him with Kallis, at least not in England. In this country, Philander averages 40.28 with the bat, with three vital fifties to his name, and 21.60 with the ball. Kallis, who played more 10 more Tests in England than Philander's five to date, averaged 35.33 with the bat and 29.30 with the ball. Not much in it, is there?
Philander's challenge will be keeping up with Kallis' numbers and many will expect him not to. He is entirely used to being under-rated. "You will always be judged and have people making comments but that's something we have to put out of our minds," he said.
For a lot of his naysayers fitness is an issue and his stumbling in the field at Trent Bridge didn't help, but whatever physical condition he may appear to be in, Philander is not as clunky and as he looks. He can bowl longer spells or return for a fourth or fifth spell; he didn't because he has come off an injury that could have ruled him out of the first Test but South Africa were desperate for him to play, so desperate that they managed him.
"Going into that Lord's Test I was probably a bit undercooked," he admitted. "I had a chat with the higher powers but they wanted me to play. I've just got back from an ankle injury and literally bowled that week before the Test match. I found my rhythm in this one. Hopefully I'll be a bigger threat for the last two."
South Africa's whole attack is thinking that. Their success at Trent Bridge will likely mean that they keep the four-seam attack for The Oval with Duanne Olivier dropping out for Kagiso Rabada and Morris keeping his place. That means Morris will be rewarded for pace and persistence and given an opportunity to work on consistency, which he has shown he could have.
After three wayward overs in a first-spell in which he "got excited" according to du Plessis by the amount of swing and overwhelmed by the options available to him, Morris returned to deliver a solid second spell at the end of the first innings and two of the best balls of the match in the second to get rid of England's two best batsmen. He bowled Joe Root with a yorker which straighten late to beat the edge and had Alastair Cook in a tangle against a vicious short ball, signs of how quickly he learnt from his first three overs.
"What happened was that Chris is new to Test cricket, the ball was moving all over the place and he got excited by how much it was swinging," du Plessis said. "There was a lot of thinking going on: 'Okay I want to bowl inswing, outswing, I want to seam the ball. I want to keep the run rate down, not go for boundaries.' So there was a lot of information going on in his head. I thought at the time it was important for him to clear his head completely. I could see his head was spinning. So I said just bowl as fast as you can, and after that hopefully your action will come through."
Philander also saw that Morris could offer something and told du Plessis, "we should just trust him and give him an opportunity" and Morris rewarded that trust. "His control surprised me. We know he is an x-factor bowler, so to see now that he has some consistency creeping in is huge for us. That adds to our x-factor as a team now that we have four very high quality seam bowlers."
So do they have anything close to Kallis? The answer is not absolutely not.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent