New Zealand v South Africa, 3rd Test, Wellington, 4th day

'This attack gives me freedom' - Philander

The way the South Africa attack went about their work and applied pressure aggressively, without any let up through the first two sessions on Monday in Wellington, was a measure of how tough Test cricket could be

Firdose Moonda in Wellington

March 26, 2012

Comments: 18 | Text size: A | A

South Africa get together after one of Vernon Philander's wickets, New Zealand v South Africa, 3rd Test, Wellington, 4th day, March 26, 2012
Daniel Flynn: "A lot of people would probably say they [South Africa] are the best seam-bowling attack going around in world cricket at the moment." © AFP
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There are very few accurate measures of how tough Test cricket really is. Sometimes it can be assessed by the man who prevails on a green top or a dust bowl, or the one who bends his back on a surface as flat as a highway. On Monday, a measure of it was the way the South Africa attack went about their work and applied pressure aggressively, without any let up through the first two sessions.

Comparisons have already started with 1970s' West Indies quartet of Croft, Garner, Holding and Marshall. They may be premature - after all South Africa's attack has played together in this format for a period that has not even totalled half a year - but they may also soon be proved true. The attack showed more than a glimpse of that kind of form at the Basin Reserve.

It reflects, to use one of Vernon Philander's favourite words, obviously, in the collapse they effected when New Zealand lost 6 for 56 in 15 overs. The damage they did before that, though, in rattling the top order and refusing to allow any of New Zealand's batsmen the chance to capitalise on a start, is probably more complimentary of their skill.

Dale Steyn bowled an opening spell that could only have come out of the hands of the world's top ranked Test bowler. He swung the ball at pace, beat the bat and found edges, although they did not go to hand. Morne Morkel backed him up with bounce from the other end. He roughed the batsmen up, twice appealing for catches off balls that came off uncomfortable areas - Daniel Flynn was the hip and Martin Guptill was close to the rib.

Morkel made sure the batsmen knew he would come at them and if he did, it would be painful. Eventually, he felled one when he hit Ross Taylor's on the forearm near the wrist. The New Zealand captain was in so much pain that he only managed to stay at the crease for one more ball and scans revealed that Taylor's forearm is now broken.

Just as New Zealand thought they could have a breather, the second wave came on. Flynn lasted only two balls before giving way to Vernon Philander's usual mix of good line and slight away movement. Marchant de Lange is still learning but he continued the assault with raw pace and threatening lengths, as all of South Africa's attack banged in the short ball against a New Zealand line-up they believed to be vulnerable.

Occasionally, they allowed some slack and JP Duminy came on to give the quicks a rest. Graeme Smith rotated his bowlers well, so that none of the seamers tired and all of them had gas in the tank when they were brought back on. The onslaught was allowed to roll on, no matter who had the ball in hand. Against such sustained pressure, batsmen of any quality would feel worked into a corner and eventually may give way. New Zealand eventually did. "They're at you the whole time, it's a quality attack and there are no freebies out there," Flynn said. "I think you'd find a lot of people would probably say they are the best seam-bowling attack going around in world cricket at the moment."

For that statement to come out after facing the attack on flat and fairly placid pitch in conditions that suit batting over bowling, in testament to South Africa's prowess. Flynn said he would be hard-pressed to single one of them out as the most difficult to face but named the attributes of two who made it challenging. "Morkel gets that extra bit of bounce. Philander just hits consistent areas and he is consistently asking questions," Flynn said. "They all complement each other well and they all come at you in a different way."

Smith has expressed his delight with the options available to him in the bowling department and the quality of the attack at his disposal. Philander added to that with an affirmation that the balance allows each bowler to operate at their optimum. "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 skills on show. It's a special squad and a special bowling unit that we have. It's all coming together."

Philander has been the most profitable of the South Africa bowlers, becoming the fastest ever to 50 Test wickets for South Africa and the fastest overall in the last 116 years. His success, though extraordinarily, is not unexpected and comes on the back of two exceptional domestic seasons. His recipe for success consists mostly of keeping it simple, and being disciplined in his lines and lengths. "Bowling form is like batting form. If things go for you, make sure you keep doing it," Philander said. "That's what I'm doing. Obviously bowling form is on my side. Hopefully I can extend this run for as long as possible."

The bowlers will have another chance to show off their ability when South Africa declare and go in search of a win. That will mean bowling New Zealand out in less than a day. Does Philander think South Africa can do it? "I would like to think so," he said. "The bowlers are confident but how the wicket plays and how we take our chances will play a part."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by sadha1972 on (March 29, 2012, 8:50 GMT)

VERNON YOU HAVE SHOWN THAT YOU WILL BE A GREAT BOWLER SO YOU DONT HAVE TO THANK DALE STEYN FOR YOUR SUCCESS BECAUSE HE HASNT THANKED ANYONE ELSE FOR HIS .

Posted by   on (March 27, 2012, 23:23 GMT)

the south african bowling attack is incredible, with morkel, steyn, and philander you have a potent attack but then the people who could replace these three in tests is just amazing. Merchant de Lange, Wayne Parnell good young fast bowlers coming through. An then dont forget the no. 1 odi bowler in the world cant even get a test in tsotsobe.

Posted by here2rock on (March 26, 2012, 22:01 GMT)

It is silly to compare them with the West Indies greats, if the knock out the West Indies in the second innings in 50 overs then we start saying they are going to be great to watch but still no West Indian quicks!

Posted by ravikb on (March 26, 2012, 19:57 GMT)

RandyOZ, I think you have still not come out of 2010-11 ashes humiliation by the same United XI.

Posted by   on (March 26, 2012, 18:31 GMT)

SA has always been the toughest challenger to no 1 team, I want to see if they can be the no 1 team. Nothing to take away the quality of the team though!

Posted by teo. on (March 26, 2012, 18:26 GMT)

cant WAIT for SA/Eng series!!!!!!! it should be a 5 game series!! SA are brilliant at the moment, but Eng bowlers at home are just as potent... lets get theses silly T20 games/Ipl over with and get to the real games

Posted by Nadeem1976 on (March 26, 2012, 18:04 GMT)

Number of wickets are taken by Philander in last 7 matches is phenomenal and are unknown to modern cricket where we have batsmen friendly and covered pitches.

This bowling attack will take down #1 ranked team in the world at their home. I hope no body gets injured and we see a great three match series in england.

England be ready, your crown is in deep danger. You may be overthrown by SA this summer. Phalender is my man. he has taken more 5 wicket hauls in 7 matches than some of the greatest bowlers in their entire career. Too good a inform bowler.

Posted by   on (March 26, 2012, 17:34 GMT)

Vernon is shaun pollock and mcgracth combined! Its too early to say,but taking 50 wickets 6.5 matches is more than fantastic.

Posted by kolki on (March 26, 2012, 17:17 GMT)

THE ARTICLE HAS AN ERROR: "West Indies quartet of Croft, Garner, Holding and Marshall" is not right. When we say WI quartret it is meant either Roberts, Croft, Garner and Holding or Roberts, Garner, Holding and Marshall. Croft and Marshall didnt play a lot together.

Posted by r1m2 on (March 26, 2012, 16:10 GMT)

Yes this is truly an amazing attack. As long as the pitch is hard or green, and it's not too warm for the run-up comfort, this 4 pronged pace attack can tear apart any batting line up in the world. I.e. this won't be very successful playing under the Lankan, Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi heat waves. SAfrica needs to make sure they keep Tahir fresh and practicing so he continues to improve and doesn't lose his tricks for when it really calls for it.

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