Philander expects victory to come soon
South Africa need just two more wickets to be assured of a series win against Sri Lanka, according to Vernon Philander. Philander, who missed the last Test with a knee injury and has taken four wickets in the deciding match so far, said once South Africa break into Sri Lanka's tail, they expect victory to come fairly easily.
"Once we get past [Dinesh] Chandimal at No.7, we won't find much resistance from the lower order," Philander said. "If we can get No. 7 out, we are pretty much in it."
Chandimal is the next man in and is considered Sri Lanka's last line of defence after his bright debut in Durban. He scored twin half-centuries and was credited by both Russell Arnold and Mahela Jayawardene as being one of the main reasons for Sri Lanka winning their first Test in South Africa.
Since the euphoria of that victory, Sri Lanka have struggled to reach similar highs in Cape Town. They lost 12 wickets on day three and were made to follow-on after conceding a massive 580 for four. On a pitch that was expected to remain batsmen-friendly until the end of day three, Sri Lanka made it look like the complete opposite.
Chandimal said the South African attack made life difficult on a pitch good for batting. "The wicket is still good but the South African attack doesn't give you a chance to relax at any time," he said. "Their bowlers keep giving a variety of deliveries and you have to concentrate hard which makes it difficult. All three quicks bowl differently and that variation also causes problems when batting."
Dale Steyn, Philander and Morne Morkel operated in short, incisive bursts to slice their way through Sri Lanka's line-up. From the third ball of the morning, when Kumar Sangakkara slashed at a Steyn delivery, the tone was set for the trio, aided by a pumped-up Imran Tahir, to take centre stage. "Wickets always set the tone of the day," Philander said. "Picking up Sangakkara gives the bowlers a bit more oomph and bit more of a big boost."
Tahir bowled 30 overs on the third day, substantially more than he has been given the opportunity to do in the previous four Tests he has played. For the first time, he was able to perform a dual role of containing and attacking and it was one he fitted into well. "His last two games he has put a few overs under the belt. You can just see the confidence he has within in himself. He also does a big job for us in holding up one end," Philander said. "It gives the seamers the freedom of bowling short spells and being fresh all day."
Philander and Steyn both returned in later spells to claim wickets with the older ball, something that Philander, in particular, needed to prove he could do. After starting his career bowling in helpful conditions, skeptics wanted to see how Philander would fare in more trying situations. He showed he would do no worse. "I always back myself to take wickets, whether it be upfront or in the middle with the older ball," he said.
South Africa's bowlers have been in the field for one ball short of 127 overs and will have to spend more time toiling in the sun tomorrow. Although they could have refrained from enforcing the follow-on, Philander said the strategy was to take advantage of their big lead. "Having such a big lead, you have to make them follow on and try and bowl them out as quickly as possible," he said. "Tomorrow morning the bowlers will be a fresh and legs will be ready to go again."
Philander thinks a win is within touching distance for South Africa but Chandimal believes Sri Lanka can still make them work hard for it, and possibly even prevent it, with a more determined approach. "We made a few mistakes which cost us dearly and that's why we are in this position but the game is not over yet and we've lost only four wickets in the second innings," he said. "If a long partnership is established, we can still be competitive."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent