Performance of The Test: Philander was the difference
With both bat and ball, Vernon Philander tormented England in the Lord's Test match
Without Vernon Philander, South Africa could easily have played their familiar trick and thrown away the Test series at Lord’s.
In the last couple of years, South Africa have taken leads into the final games of series and lost on three occasions – twice against India and once against Sri Lanka.
And it might have happened again, but for the man-of-the-match Philander, who was the thorn in England’s side with both bat and ball, scoring 96 runs and taking seven wickets, including 5-30 in the second innings.
Let’s not forget that England had South Africa reeling at 54-4 on the first morning. When Philander came to the crease on day one, the position had improved only slightly to 163-6. Little was expected of Philander with the bat from English commentators who had written off the South African tailenders as much weaker than the home side’s.
But they underestimated Philander. He has made two first-class hundreds in South Africa and just prior to this game he battered the Derbyshire attack for 68 runs at almost a run a ball, with a couple of sixes.
He played a superb innings, full of splendid drives and dogged defence. He shared in a stand of 72 with JP Duminy and finished with 61 priceless runs. In the second innings, he again made a vital contribution with 35 demoralising runs from number nine, boosting the team's total from 282-7 to 338 all out.
Philander then took the new ball and cut England down in the bright late evening sunshine on day four to 13-2 by the close. Both Strauss and Cook were trapped lbw to his sharp in-movement from a perfect length.
On the fifth day, Philander was again clinical in his dissection of technique. Early on, Ian Bell (4) rashly attacked him indiscriminately when the new ball was moving around in overcast conditions. The inevitable result was another nick and England were 34-3.
But conditions eased and the old ball had nothing like the same venom. Imran Tahir's erratic legspin was an easy target for the lower-middle order. And England prospered with some fabulous strokeplay from Jonny Bairstow (54), Matt Prior (73), Stuart Broad (37) and Graeme Swann (41).
When Philander took the second new ball, England still had a glimmer of hope. They had reached 293-8, requiring another 53 runs at around 3 an over. Prior was still at the crease, so South Africa were not home and dry.
But Philander extinguished England’s hopes ruthlessly. In his first over with the second new ball, he found the edge of Prior’s bat with away movement down the slope, then he bowled a delicious legcutter next ball to dismiss Finn for a golden duck.
It was fitting that Philander should seal the game and send South Africa to world number one Test side. As much as any other player, he has catapulted them up the world rankings.
He came into the Tests again England with 50 wickets in seven matches, with six five-fors. He had won matches against Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. Now England can be he added to the list and he has seven five-fors in 10 Tests.
But when he took the new ball at The Oval, many onlookers questioned why Graeme Smith could give it to him instead of Dale Steyn. He only bowls at 80mph and like every bowler on that placid surface, he looked pretty ordinary.
Smith, however, has consistently given him first pop with the new cherry. Finally, it paid off in the final innings of the series, with Philander showing his rapid rise up the world rankings was no fluke. Graeme Smith said after the game that he was delighted that Philander had shown English fans what he could do.
He bowls a little straighter and fuller than Glenn McGrath, and doesn’t get the same bounce. But he possesses the same sharp intellect, and control of length. At 27, he took a while to find a place in the side, but it means he knows his game inside out and trusts to the simplicity of his method.
His style of bowling suits all conditions and with him in the side, alongside Steyn and Morkel, South Africa are likely to have a longer run as number one than England.