'Tough challenge playing India in India, but wouldn't want it any other way' – Philander

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Vernon Philander, the South Africa fast bowler, can't wait for the three-match Test series against India to begin, which will also mark the start of his team's ICC World Test Championship campaign.

South Africa drew their warm-up match against Board President's XI in Vizianagaram on Saturday, 28 September, after the first day's play was washed out due to rain. They scored 279/6 in their first innings and dismissed eight players of the opposition side for 265 before play ended. Philander starred with both bat and ball, scoring a 49-ball 48 and then picking up 2/27, which included the prized wicket of Rohit Sharma.

The paceman was pleased with his performance and believes the practice will be useful when they face India on Wednesday, 2 October in Visakhapatnam. "It’s always good to have some time out in the middle," he said after the conclusion of the final day of the practice game. "Fortunately for me, I came here a couple of days earlier to join the A side… to get a bit of a game time.

"Mainly it’s just about getting a feel for the wickets. It is going to be a tough series, obviously, so the more time you spend out there in the middle, the better."

South Africa will be playing their first Test series after the retirements of stalwarts Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn and Philander feels it will be a big opportunity for the senior players to step up and make statements. Philander, who made his Test debut in 2011, is one of South Africa's most successful bowlers in recent times with 214 wickets to his name at an astounding average of 21.64. Having got off to a good start in the warm-match match, the 34-year-old is confident of doing well in the coming days.

"Spotlight will be on a lot of big players to make a statement. Our job is to come here and give the first punch as India is obviously expected to do well. We are known as a team who starts slow so this time around we have to start well. There is a lot of pressure on players [but then] it’s international cricket and you want to keep it that way. 

Philander scored 48 and picked up 2/27 in the practice game against Board President's XI
Philander scored 48 and picked up 2/27 in the practice game against Board President's XI

"We are obviously prepared to do well. When we do well, it gives you that better confidence and I’ll take that confidence with me. It’s been a long winter for me and I am feeling in really good nick."

South Africa are the only team apart from Bangladesh and Pakistan yet to start their World Test Championship campaign and Philander mused that while India will be a tough opposition to meet first up, they are looking forward to the contest. "The Test championship brings in a new dimension. It is a new sort of excitement for players. Also knowing that you will be playing against top teams more often [is great].

"It’s a tough start…playing India in India but I don’t think the South Africans would have wanted it any other way… take the big dogs in their home ground. All of us are looking forward to this challenge and there are a lot of player-to-player challenges as well. Can’t wait to get going."

Philander was exceptional in South Africa's last Test series against India in 2018 and picked up 15 wickets in three Tests at an impressive average of 15.86. Now, as one of the senior players in the side and leader of the Proteas bowling line-up, he has called on the experienced players take up the mantle to strengthen the base and leave behind a legacy for the younger ones to take over.

"We have lost some senior players and there are new players coming in and we want them to learn quickly. Hopefully we can use the experience of the senior players that are still around and mold this into a good Test side for the years to come. That’s the most important part, to lay a good foundation for players to take forward."

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