Cricket: Big Three stand out in test series

By David Leggat

Vernon Philander leaves New Zealand as the fastest-rising bowler in the world game, up to No 9 in the international rankings. Photo / Getty Images
Vernon Philander leaves New Zealand as the fastest-rising bowler in the world game, up to No 9 in the international rankings. Photo / Getty Images

South Africa's batsmen scored five centuries to one by New Zealand during their three-test series, which ended at the Basin Reserve yesterday.

And as well as Graeme Smith and his fellow top six in the order played, the abiding memory of this South African team will be performance of their three strike bowlers, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and, perhaps most of all, Vernon Philander.

The trio combined sharp pace, swing, seam, awkward bounce and accuracy to make life consistently demanding for New Zealand's batsmen.

Of the 47 wickets taken by South Africa over the course of the series, 40 were taken by the best seam attack in the game.

There were periods of legspin from Imran Tahir in the first two tests, some important short bursts by veteran allrounder Jacques Kallis, but for the most part the bowling was shared by the Big Three.

Philander leaves New Zealand as the fastest-rising bowler in the world game, up to No 9 in the international rankings. He took 21 wickets at just 15.47, moving past 50 wickets in just his seventh test. Only Australian Charlie Turner in the 1880s has got there quicker.

Lively fast-medium and invariably on the spot, Philander was a new opponent for New Zealand's batsmen, and it showed.

"Bowling form is like batting form," Philander said. "If things go for you, make sure you keep doing it. That's what I'm doing.

"Obviously bowling form is on my side. Hopefully I can extend this run for as long as possible."

Then there was Steyn, the world's No 1-ranked bowler, who looked below his best in the drawn first test at Dunedin, but got better as the series went on.

He showed his class with accuracy and penetration with five for 80 from 34 overs in the nine-wicket win at Hamilton, and deserved better than he got with a withering performance at Wellington.

Catches were spilled off him - hapless JP Duminy grassed three off him on the fourth morning alone - and when the third umpire's decision on Alviro Petersen's catch off Kane Williamson on seven also went against him yesterday morning, Steyn fired up.

His fierce bowling through the second session yesterday won't be forgotten by Williamson and Dean Brownlie in particular as Steyn cranked up the speed and hostility.

Nine wickets sounds a meagre return for the series, but his contribution was strong.

Morkel's payday came yesterday. He had taken only four wickets through the first two tests, bowling better than those figures suggest.

But yesterday the 1.96m Morkel stepped up. Handed a rare chance with the new ball by Smith, he rose to the job, finishing with all six wickets for 23 from 16.4 overs, his best test figures, as New Zealand hung on for a draw.

He could sense success not far away, quipped that he warmed up by bowling to coach Gary Kirsten's young children in the hotel corridor the previous night, and showed the full range of his talents yesterday.

Bert Vogler is the only other South African bowler to have taken the first six wickets in a test innings, and that was 105 years ago.

"It's a special attack and to be part of that, part of a legacy we're trying to create, is special," Morkel said after the test.

"Vern and Dale and the performances they have put in have been exceptional. It takes a little bit of the pressure off you as a bowler to know you've got guys like that on the flanks."

Philander appreciates the merits of his two fellow musketeers.

"This attack gives me the freedom to do what I need to do," he said. "We've got guys who can keep it tight. They keep a hold on the game and give me the chance to strike all the time and to put my skill on show. It's all coming together."

Next up it's England. World No 1 vs world No 2. The stakes will be high in July. England's batsmen know what to expect.

- NZ Herald

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