South Africa v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Centurion, 3rd day December 17, 2011

South Africa starting to gel dangerously

South Africa are bringing together all areas of their game and producing a dangerous combination
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Half a Test match. These days when South Africa win a Test match, that's all the time they need. For the second time this summer, they have wrapped up victory in little over seven sessions, pushing the match in fast-forward and earning themselves some extra time off over the holiday season.

Resounding with the bat, forceful with the ball and comprehensive all-round, South Africa were able to stamp their authority over their opposition early on. Out of 10, they are probably an eight, with the only worries being the back-up bowlers and a few of the batsmen, but as an all-round unit, they are starting to gell in dangerous fashion.

"Today was probably the best standard we produced," Graeme Smith said. "Even though we bowled Australia out for 47, I thought today was really good. "

It was not just a performance of value because South Africa cleaned Sri Lanka up but because they did so having maximised the ability to exploit conditions and sharpened their killer instinct. Previously, South Africa may have laboured trying to dislodge the tail or even been satisfied with a smaller lead. Smith said "we would have been happy with a 100-run lead on this surface but to get 200 and a bit ahead really allowed us to attack with the ball." At the end of the second day's play, AB de Villiers was certain that South Africa had a big enough lead, at the end of the match, they proved him right.

Vernon Philander is already being hyped up as the find of the season after his role in securing the victory. At international level, he may well be, but those who have watched him from his days as an cheeky newbie in 2007, to his toil on the first-class scene since then, will not be surprised by the performances he has put in. Words like skilful and canny have been used to describe him but another couple that can be added to those are disciplined and aggressive.

South Africa's attack blended their aggression with strangulation and Smith summed it up well when he said "there weren't too may free deliveries out there".

He stole the limelight off Dale Steyn, which gave the world's top-ranked bowler the time he needs to hit top gear. He covered for an under-firing Morne Morkel, who Smith said was "a bit rusty" and would get better the more he bowled. Philander's penetrative performance also meant the match was over before Imran Tahir could even come into play.

In his three Tests so far, the legspinner has had to play on seamer-friendly pitches and although he has managed to squeeze out some wickets, he has had to do so despite the conditions. Still, Smith believes there is a place for Tahir in the Test squad and that the time will soon come for him to play a part.

"I don't think it's been the easiest wickets for Imran to start his Test career on. The wickets have seamed a lot and he has not really had to play a frontline role for us," Smith said. "But, this Test match, he went looking for work with the bat and in the field and the confidence and enthusiasm that he showed is always exciting to have. We know what skills he has and I'm sure somewhere in this series, the skill will have to come to the fore." Tahir scored a run-a-ball 29 and showed a marked improvement in the other two aspects of his game. Cape Town will likely provide him with his best chance to impress.

Jacques Kallis also showed a more committed approach to bowling, which was absent from his game against Australia. He regularly got up to over 140kph and has taken his place as the containing seamer. "I don't know if he has got too many more 147 kph spells in his body but it's always great to see him like that. It's terrific the amount of work he is putting into the bowling," Smith said. As a whole, South Africa's attack blended their aggression with strangulation and Smith summed it up well when he said "there weren't too may free deliveries out there".

With the bat, it was particularly pleasing to see Mark Boucher's 65 and the way he combined with the tail to form key partnerships at the end of the innings. At the start of the series, Boucher was facing pressure, with talk about his successor swirling. He was able to ignore the debate and humble enough to seek help. "Mark has played enough games to know when he is not performing to a standard," Smith said. "I think it's more a technical thing, he has put in some work on his batting and if you look at the way he played against Australia, he changed a few things technically."

South Africa will take five days off before regrouping next Friday in Durban. They will allow their bodies to rest but not their minds and the primary objective when they get to the coast will be to keep the lid on Sri Lanka. "Today was quite emphatic, our intensity was great," Smith said.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Amol_Gh on December 20, 2011, 6:41 GMT

    ("Anderson takes a staggering **17** more Tests (NOT innings) to catch up with Steyn in terms of wickets.") Yup, that is right. But I wanted to add more. That 17-match gap would be spot-on if Anderson starts performing like Steyn from ***NOW*** onwards. Else that gap is only going to widen if Anderson still performs to his own standards.

  • Vilander on December 19, 2011, 9:50 GMT

    SA has awesome bowling, congrats..

  • Fast_Track_Bully on December 19, 2011, 5:32 GMT

    @spence1324. The same question is applicable to ur batsmen too...why ur batsmen not able to score in batting friendly conditions in the sub-continent?

  • rahulcricket007 on December 19, 2011, 5:16 GMT

    @AMOL_IND_SA . AGREE WITH YOU , ANDERSON IS OVERRATED . HE ONLY NEEDS GREEN PITCHES OR OVERCAST CONDITIONS TO TAKES WKTS . WHAT HAPPENS TO HIM WHEN HE ENTERS IN SUBCONTITNENT ? LETS SEE HOW MANY WKTS WILL HE TAKES AGAINST PAK IN UAE.

  • rahulcricket007 on December 19, 2011, 5:05 GMT

    @SHAFAET ASHRAF . YEP , STEYN BOWLED OUT INDIA IN INDIA IN FIRST TEST BUT WAIT .... WHAT HAPPENS IN THE NEXT TEST ? INDIA PILES UP 600+ IN FIRST INNINGS WITH LOSING ONLY 5 WKTS , AND STEYN GETS ONLY 1 WKT GIVING 100+ RUNS ROLLING ALL OVER THE PARK BY SEHWAG , LAXMAN , DHONI ,SACHIN . REAL CLASS BOWLERS WERE WASIM AKRAM , IMRAN KHAN , KAPIL DEV , MALCOLM MARSHALL , MICHAEL HOLDING . THEY HAVE THE ABILITY TO TAKE WKTS EVERYWHERE , EVEN ON DUST BOWLS .

  • rahulcricket007 on December 19, 2011, 4:59 GMT

    @spence1234 . BECAUSE IN SUBCONTINENT MOSTLY WKTS ARE TAKEN BY SPINNERS. ALSO PAKISTAN SEAMERS TAKES WKTS EVERYWHERE IN THE WORLD .

  • dummy4fb on December 19, 2011, 3:20 GMT

    We are not quite 100% with our lineup yet. My biggest disappointments being Wayne Parnell and JP Duminy. These guys started their careers SO WELL, but seem to have fallen away a bit. A left arm fast bowler who can swing the ball would have been fantastic to have in combo with Steyn, and as much as I admire Ashwell Prince, JP Duminy has the potential to be a much better no.5 or 6 batsman (wouldn't bat him any higher than that). When Kallis does retire we won't have the luxury of such a balanced team. We might have to play our wicketkeeper at 6 just for fit in an extra bolwer who can bat a bit at 7 or 8.

  • righthandbat on December 18, 2011, 22:57 GMT

    Philander is quite a find - but it is early days yet. He seems to complement Steyn nicely and allows Morkel a little more room to move when he has bad days. I feel like Amla should be opening the batting with Smith and de Villiers should take over the number 3 spot. Sure, he's a gun at number 5, but he's mature and skillful and with Kallis at 4 that's a very very formidable top 4. Another batsman should be given a run at number 5 or 6, but otherwise the SA unit seems very good.

  • dummy4fb on December 18, 2011, 18:44 GMT

    I would agree. SA look a potent attack now. All this while they had one issue. Always had a menacing/ biting opening attack but the first change seemed to ease things much a bit for the opposition. The intensity dipped monstrously on days. Now with the trio and Kallis plus Tahir, they look like a unit which can pose problems for the oppositions more consistently - smthng which wins you Tests. Batting is good as well. Its all upto them to win in the mind now or its a big shame Smithy.

  • thebigone on December 18, 2011, 18:43 GMT

    green with long grass thats how to make them in SA. and the best fast bowler in the world but he does get abit of help. mind its been that way since readmitted.

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