Cricket: Vultures begin to circle over NZ carcass

By David Leggat

Vernon Philander celebrates after trapping New Zealand opener Martin Guptill, lbw.
Vernon Philander celebrates after trapping New Zealand opener Martin Guptill, lbw.

Those who confidently asserted on Sunday night that South Africa had no chance of taking 20 New Zealand wickets in two days should think again.

In the space of 71 overs at the Basin Reserve yesterday they took nine - and barring a late, dramatic cameo if the situation requires it - removed captain Ross Taylor from the match with a broken forearm.

South Africa will start the final day of the series at 75 without loss in their second innings, leading by 274 overall. With Taylor rubbed out as a viable threat, they probably rate themselves a decent chance, with a timely declaration, to run through New Zealand and complete a 2-0 series victory.

South Africa hold a full deck and can set the terms for the day. They don't need to give New Zealand a sniff, but will appreciate that 2-0 sounds better than 1-0.

The bulk of the damage yesterday was done by the outstanding Vernon Philander, who took six for 81, taking him to 51 wickets in only his seventh test.

Just one player in history has got there quicker, a bewhiskered Australian, Charlie "Terror" Turner, in the 1880s.

Philander has taken 21 wickets at 14.09 in this series but even he would admit his pace chums, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, deserved a large chunk of credit yesterday, as New Zealand were dismissed for 275, avoiding the follow on thanks to a Mark Gillespie French cut to the fence.

Once more there was another New Zealand batting tumble en route to 275, this time five for 33 in 54 balls - not as dramatic as the five for none at Hamilton in the second test but still dispiriting, given the pitch was still playing well.

But the three main South African bowlers were irresistible, and New Zealand's batsmen simply weren't resilient or skilled enough. You had to admire their handiwork.

Steyn, in particular, was at the top of his game. Twice he had Martin Guptill dropped at gully, difficult chances to JP Duminy's left early on, and was again the luckless bowler when poor Duminy spilled a third chance at backward point off Brendon McCullum a short time later.

He rapped Taylor's fingers first ball and was relentlessly at the batsmen. Morkel's bounce was disconcerting, as Taylor would testify, while Philander simply continued what has been a fabulous first five months of his test career.

Several New Zealand batsmen got starts, but in what has become a depressingly familiar scenario, none carried on to make it count.

Kane Williamson was the sturdiest. Martin Guptill caught some breaks but fought hard before departing just before lunch, while Brendon McCullum and Dean Brownlie fell to ill-judged hook shots, and Doug Bracewell made his fifth duck in 10 completed test innings.

The key to the game will be Smith's declaration today. Philander was confident last night. "It's all in the start tomorrow. Hopefully, we can get 350-plus [ahead] and set them a good target."

Someone asked if he was familiar with Turner's 50-wicket record.

"Funnily enough, someone mentioned it to me earlier today out on the boundary fence. Charlie Turner and 1888.

"If you ask me, I wouldn't know about 1888. No research whatsoever," he quipped.

If New Zealand are not careful on a pitch showing small signs of keeping low at the northern end, Philander and co will also get the last laugh tonight.

FAST TRIP TO THE TOP

Fastest to 50 test wickets:

6 tests: Charlie Turner (Australia, Jan 1887-Aug 1888)

7: Tom Richardson (England, Aug 1893-June 1896); Vernon Philander (South Africa, Nov 2011-March 2012)

8: Fred Spofforth (Australia, March 1877-Feb 1883); Alf Valentine (West Indies, June 1950-Dec 1951); Rodney Hogg (Australia, Dec 1978-March 1979); Terry Alderman (Australia, June 1981-Nov 1981)

- NZ Herald

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