New Zealand v South Africa, 2nd Test, Hamilton, 1st day March 15, 2012

Steyn and Philander shatter New Zealand

New Zealand appeared to be well placed at 133 for 2 but Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander combined brilliantly to rip out the heart of the home side

To change the complexion of an innings in four overs takes a bowling effort that is ruthless, relentless and is able to, as Iain O'Brien put it his tweet, get "one sniff of blood in the water and it's feasting time." Over the space of 20 deliveries, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander fit that description perfectly. The pair comprehensively derailed a New Zealand train that was chugging along at a comfortable pace and created a passage of play that could end up being one of the most significant in the context of the series.

When Steyn and Philander are both at their best, they create a cauldron of pressure that can suffocate the batsmen with the best technique and temperament in the game. Those that do not have the best of either, have very little chance.

Steyn had started within himself, bowling in the mid 130s and although he got swing from the outset, his bowling lacked venom. Some thought it was due to his ragged toe that became a television celebrity while others blamed his usual need to find his rhythm first. Steyn insists it was neither.

He appeared visibly annoyed that his toe has been the recipient of such fame. "There's actually nothing wrong with it. It's a fast bowler's toe," he said. "If you go and look at Morne Morkel's toe, they probably look worse than mine. This was one was just a little bit of a blood." True to his word, when he displayed his toe to the media who could see it, there weren't any signs that something was wrong.

As far as his rhythm was concerned, Steyn said he felt he had hit the right notes as far back as the one-day series. "I just haven't found the edge," he said. "I bowled nicely in the one-day games, and thought I bowled okay in the [first] Test match on a wicket that probably didn't suit the quickies."

Despite Steyn's protestations, the question was still being asked: why isn't he at his best? He felt that he always was but hinted that something extra clicked in this innings. "I know that I am bowling really well when I am bowling really quickly." And that is the difference. For the first time on this tour, Steyn cranked up the pace to the mid 140s and stayed there. He got the ball to move into as well as away from the right-hander - the away movement accounting for the scalp of Martin Guptill, who hung his bat out to the second ball of Steyn's second spell.

By his third one, Steyn's pace was back be and the snorter he presented to McCullum was a sign of things to come. It was a short ball that McCullum had to arch his back to watch as it zipped past his helmet. In the fourth one, the trap had been laid. McCullum had got to 50 and was pulling with confidence so a deep square was sent to the boundary and Steyn peppered him with short balls. It took just five of them for McCullum to take the bait and start a dramatic collapse.

Only three times in Test cricket has a team lost five wickets without adding to the score and all three times that team has been New Zealand. Steyn prised open the defences and Philander reached in and pulled the guts right out. His stuck to his usual line in the channel outside off and had Ross Taylor caught at slip. Steyn stuck with a brutish short ball at the other end to account for Kane Williamson before Philander's seam movement completed the carnage. Together, they left New Zealand in shreds.

What was different about their destruction in this match was that they did it with the old ball as Philander found reverse swing. He complemented Steyn's out-and-out pace, adding a new shade to their already colourful palette. "Bowling with Vernon is probably the same as bowling with any other guy but probably a little more exciting because he brings the ball back in," Steyn said. "With Morne [Morkel] or Marchant [de Lange], it's probably a bit more one-dimensional. But with Vernon, there's always something happening."

Philander's consistency has pushed Steyn into the shadows in recent times and has forced him to play a different role, which involves doing a containing job when needed. "I have to go through phases where on these pitches where the ball is not going to be pinging through and [Mark] Boucher is not going to be catching every ball above shoulder height from a length. There's spells when you really have to dry things up and you've got to work with who is bowling on the other side and think, 'Who's more dangerous right now?' On most days, it seems like Vernon is the guy that's most dangerous."

Philander will not always be the chief assassin but on the slower tracks of New Zealand the threat he poses is more pronounced. The secret to making the most of that threat is to have Steyn on the other side, offering a different challenge to batsmen. Graeme Smith, in bringing Philander back on once Steyn had "put my foot down a bit and opened the door," showed that he knows how to make sure that door gets shut as well.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 18, 2012, 3:43 GMT

    Wonderful to see Vern perform but i would be cautious about making comparisons to Steyn.Lets see what happens once he is into his second season,opposition have had the luxury of studying him and working him out,subcontinent pitches,injury,form,pressure of expectation,etc. Right now he is probably changing the entire game of cricket and the role of the medium pacer such is his impact.His method ensures that not too much can go wrong with his game and he is bowling beautifully.Problem is batsmen dont know what his stock ball is and thus are always in 2 minds since his length is so good.The one caveat is that he must lose some weight-he appears to be overweight although better than in the S.A series.Long may his purple patch continue.

  • Craig on March 16, 2012, 5:25 GMT

    Very interesting partnership developing and Philander is already ranked 16th in the test bowler rankings. After this test (already 6 wickets), he should move close to the top 10 bowlers which is insane considering this is his 6th test match. In regards to the partnership, it is simply breathtaking. My club cricket mates in Australia are very worried about Philander and Steyn and once they learn to bowl in a partnership more - it is quite scary what they can achieve. I bowling ranking of 1 and 2 in the world is certainly achievable but I guess their goal is to take SA to number 1 and keep them there. On a side note, I wonder if Pattinson and Cummins can form a similar deadly partnership in the future. England have Anderson and Broad and the top 3 teams in the world are all blessed with an abundance of fast bowling talent. I cant say the same for the batting talent in each of the teams.

    I would rate SA the best fast bowling attack at the moment, followed by Australia and then England

  • Greg on March 16, 2012, 3:56 GMT

    Its a bit harsh to be calling KP, trott etc rejects... based on their career i dare say trott would have been picked instead of petersen or similar.

    I love the way SA plays cricket, 2nd fav nation behind my home, AUS. Also love the country, spent 2 months there in 2010. Lets go SA, knock ENG oiff the top and have SA and AUS 1 & 2 in the world soon

  • Dummy4 on March 16, 2012, 2:59 GMT

    Really happy Philander is going to be playing a few games for my team, Somerset, this season. Great player. South Africa possibly have the world's best bowling attack at the moment. Eng vs SA should be a great series!

  • Hamish on March 16, 2012, 2:28 GMT

    Speaking of foreign players, talk us through Imran Tahir's background.

  • Rimtu on March 15, 2012, 20:32 GMT

    I think Steyn and Philander complement each other well, like Pollock and Donald did for each other. Fast bowlers hunt best in pairs and I think SAfrica finally found the replacement for Donald-Pollock pairing. I am excited for this pace attack. I think with Steyn and Philander opening and Morne and Merchant to follow, they could present the most threatening 4-pronged pace attack since the WIndians of 80s.

    Although Tahir is another genuine wicket taker... but the success of Steyn and Philander has limited the chances for him to do his thing and take wickets. Legspinner will only do better by bowling more, but he's not getting the chance right now. He'll definitely be handy against Pakistan and Sri Lankan in their den. Maybe not so much against India.

  • Dummy4 on March 15, 2012, 19:18 GMT

    Xolile, with all respect and as an avid SA fan, I have to disagree with you entirely. I absolutely love watching Philander bowl, and he has come into the team at exactly the right time for his career. It's been a perfect start. You ignore the fact that he was given a ODI debut in 2007. No-one could've predicted the incredible impact he would have in test cricket. Generally players get a limited overs debut first. Don't blame these legends, because Big Vern certainly isn't blaming them. He's just too cool to do that... SO, when will Philander overtake Steyn as the nr1 bowler!? :)

  • Devon on March 15, 2012, 14:13 GMT

    I am over the moon at the way SA is performing these days....Cant wait for them to square up against the SA rejects ooops i mean england lol

  • Shalin on March 15, 2012, 13:19 GMT

    @RandyOZ: England mostly gets the second-stringers. Trott is no Kallis, and KP is no AB :P

  • Dummy4 on March 15, 2012, 13:12 GMT

    @RandyOZ: there is no collingwood to hang in for draw anymore.

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