When at Newlands, his home ground, Vernon Philander searches for a face in the pavilion as he ambles to the fine leg after a successful over. Once he spots the familiar figure of the elderly man in formals and a tie he waves. Then world cricket’s most feared bowler turns his focus back on the 22 yards as he plans his next scalp and the subsequent wave.
Johannas Adams, sitting in the President suite, is talking about the “wave” he gets from Philander when the South Africans walk out on to the ground before the start of the second day’s play.
Adams is the chairman of the Tiger Cricket Club, Philander’s alma mater. He is also the one who saw the spark in Philander when he was a pre-teen budding cricketer. He drove him around the Western Province, taking him to games and training. Adams, in nutshell, was the father figure of the boy raised by a single mother and grandparents.
On Saturday, Adams, a school teacher by profession, got waved at on two occasions, as Philander finished with figures of 3/33 — one wicket, that of Murali Vijay, was taken on the first day’s final session.
A well-respected man in Cape Town’s cricket circuit, Adams talks about the gratification of being spotted in a stadium full of fans by one of the stars of this South African bowling line-up
“You don’t get money for these kind of things. This is the reward for putting in the hard work. Over the years, I was fortunate to sit here and see him bag wickets. He always looks up to me and that gives me a great feeling.”
A long association
Adams and Philander go back a long way; they first met 20 years ago. They came in touch after the vice-chairman of the Tiger CC saw his son play cricket with a friend from next door, on the road in front of their houses.
The Tiger CC official was so impressed that he asked the boy to be at the club the next day.
Adams met him there and Philander got onto the path that would make him the fastest international pacer to 50 wickets and fastest South African to 100 Test wickets. All these milestones reached without even being the fastest in the team.
“He had the same run-up, same bowling style and the same amount of patience he shows now. He is very consistent. He looks to bowl at one spot all the time and run down the batsmen with patience,” says the mentor. Patience, Adams says, is something that is an integral part of Philander’s personality. “He has a very positive mindset. During our long drives back from games, even if things hadn’t gone his way, he never sounded disappointed. Actually, he has never been down all his life.”
At Tiger CC too, they talk about Philander’s patience and wait for him to drop by at the club. “He would spend so much time with the boys here. He answers their questions and plays with them.”
Adams says his ward got the break only after coach Gary Kirsten took over. “He made his debut in a T20 game but after that he was out for a while. Once Kirsten returned from India, he gave Philander the big break,” Adams says.
He goes on to narrate an interesting story about how Kirsten added Philander to the South African pace department. “Kirsten went to all the opening batsmen in the country and also the No.3 batter. He asked them just one question, ‘who according to them was the most dangerous bowler?’ About 80 per cent said it was Philander.” Philander’s prolific domestic show and pedigree had a role to play in him returning to the South Africa squad. In case, had the Kirsten asked India’s 1, 2 and 3, they too would have named the pacer who moves the ball just that wee bit so that it takes the edge. Opener Murali Vijay and No.3 Pujara fell to Philander.
Adams says the reason he bonded with Philander was the proximity he had with the family. “His mother and me went to the same school. So I knew the family. So it was easy. To thank me for my efforts, they have gifted me a thank you plaque that is there in my living room. I feel good when I see it.”
Maybe, not as good as when he sees Philander looking out for him in the packed stands and waving.