Vernon Philander has missed eight of the 37 Tests South Africa have played at home since he made his debut‚ and they’ve won half of them.
So it’s not a catastrophe that he is out of the first Test against Pakistan in Centurion on December 26 with a broken thumb: South Africa’s attack would seem to be at least half the force it is when Philander is fit and firing.
Except that the other half of that equation won’t make such reassuring reading for supporters.
South Africa have won 21 of the 29 games they have played at home with Philander in harness and lost only five.
Having him around has helped them succeed on their own patch 72.41% of the time‚ and he has been part of failure just 1.72% of their games.
That could mean South Africa are 70.69% — the difference between those two figures — less likely to win at home when Philander isn’t part of the side.
He has played three Tests against Pakistan in South Africa‚ taking 15 wickets at an average of 15.80 — and has been on the winning side every time.
And with Lungi Ngidi also missing because of a knee injury that will take him out of the mix for at least three months‚ you can see what Ottis Gibson means when he says: “I really don’t even want to think about what would happen should there be another injury.”
But a thundering thumper like Ngidi‚ as valuable as he has proved himself to the cause in the space of four Tests in which he has claimed 15 scalps at 19.53‚ is replaceable.
Not neatly. His quality shines out even in South Africa‚ where good quicks aren’t hard to find.
The upside is that finding a reasonable facsimile of Ngidi promises to prove easier than filling the hole Philander — a bowler of skill and nous — will leave in South Africa’s attack.
Duanne Olivier is a fast bowler in the Ngidi mould‚ but nobody in South Africa bowls like Philander.
All of which takes out of the reckoning all the other variables that make Test cricket the least predictable of the game’s formats; aspects like the conditions and the relative strengths of the opposition.
We have a decent idea of what the first of those factors will be like in Centurion‚ and also for the succeeding matches at Newlands and the Wanderers.
We also know Pakistan have won only two of their dozen Tests in South Africa and that they have not been in the best of form with four wins in their last 10 Tests‚ seven of which were played in their adopted home of the United Arab Emirates.
Still‚ cricketminded South Africans would sleep 70.69% more easily if they knew Philander was fit for Centurion.