Proteas in England
Philander punctures Eng hopes
Cape Town - There has possibly been a new arrival on the international scene over the past four days at Lord’s: Vernon Philander
the Test-class all-rounder.
So meteoric had been his strides simply as a seam bowler ahead of the current series between England and South Africa that most of the world had had little opportunity to witness his potential as a batsman as well.
Until this crucial match.
Suddenly there has been sufficient evidence, at the symbolic home of cricket and with the Proteas poised for an immensely satisfying series kill on Monday, to suggest that he will become almost as competitive a cricketer at this level with the blade too.
With South Africa closing in very promisingly on either a third-Test win or possibly a draw (either will be the required ticket to knock England from their ICC No 1 perch), Philander is also challenging someone like the amazingly consistent Hashim Amla
for likeliest right, as things stand, to player-of-the-match status in this intriguing contest.
Imperious No 3 batsman Amla scored his second Test century at Lord’s in successive fixtures on Sunday (he last did the trick, also in the pressured second innings, in the 2008 Test there) but the unassuming, bearded accumulator will lose no sleep over the danger that Philander elbows him out of that mantle.
This, it hardly needs saying, is a funny old game and you cannot entirely dismiss the possibility that some remaining England batsman does an “Ian Botham” sort of mercurial trick - shh, it was almost tempting for a second to say “Kevin Pietersen
” - and manufactures a fairytale victory for the hosts.
But with Philander having struck two savage blows in a short spell to bundle out both England openers before stumps on day four, South Africa losing this match may require them to suddenly surrender an enormous amount of the iron will and admirable composure they displayed on Sunday.
A lot of this mettle came in the inspiring form of Philander, who sleeps on figures of 4-1-4-2 and, for the relatively little it matters, will be just quietly sizing up the prospect of doing something he hasn’t yet managed in this particular series but so comfortably achieved in each of his previous three: notch a “five-for”.
He has been a terrific combatant for the first four days at Lord’s, in a team that has been collectively purposeful and focused, it is true.
Philander started this Test by being joint top-scorer in the Proteas’ first innings from the No 8 position, his 61 also being easily his best personal knock in his 10th appearance at the most illustrious level.
He was then the best pressure builder, in many respects, in England’s virtually identical reply, playing second fiddle to more experienced assailants Dale Steyn
and Morné Morkel in the wickets column but keeping the tightest lid on things from an economy point of view (run concession rate a miserly 2.0 from 24 overs) and contributing the not-to-be-sniffed-at scalps of Ian Bell and Matt Prior.
When he took to the crease for a second time, well before tea on Sunday and with paceman Steven Finn on a mini-rampage for resurgent England, the game was looking seriously in the balance.
But thanks to another resolute showing from the Cobras man (35 in 80 importantly time-consuming minutes), which also included some decisive stroke-play at times, South Africa were able to start turning some screws - ones which you have to suspect will not now be undone.
Philander then getting the ball into classic business areas almost immediately when the Proteas took to the field in the softening sun, and accounting for seasoned kingpins Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook with stone-dead lbws, means the momentum has shifted quite dramatically the tourists’ way.
As West Indies legend Michael Holding so correctly mentioned in commentary, England have a mounting run-rate problem, as much as anything else, as they attempt to accumulate a further 330 runs with eight wickets in hand to win and stubbornly hold onto their No 1 ranking.
They will have to score at closer to four runs to the over than three, and this in a match where the rate has dipped with every innings: South Africa’s 309 came at 3.04, England’s reply of 315 at 2.93, and then the Proteas’ impressive follow-up knock of 351 at 2.82.
Any takers for Vernon Philander
and company being carted all over the show on Monday?
You’d probably have to be English, and seriously prepared to see the bright side of life, to envisage it.
But keep watching this fine game of cricket, whatever you do.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing