Sri Lanka in South Africa 2011-12 January 8, 2012

Philander tops in dream debut season

Marks out of ten for South Africa following their 2-1 Test series win at home against Sri Lanka

Vernon Philander
With 16 wickets from two matches, at an average of 12.62, Philander has continued to surf the waves of Test success. A knee injury prevented him from playing in the second Test but either side of that, he was exceptional. He bowled a questioning length throughout and had the Sri Lankan batsmen constantly confused about whether to go forward or back to him. He operated as an out and out strike bowler, and had the ability to apply the stranglehold on run-scoring and thereby became Smith's go-to man. After just four Tests, he is already the spearhead of the South African attack.

AB de Villiers
Named Man of the Series for his prolific efforts with the bat, de Villiers was the highest run-scorer of the series. His 353 runs included a fluent 99 in Centurion, which was crucial to South Africa batting only once, and a quick-fire 160 in Cape Town, which was characterised by some of the most audacious shots in Test cricket. His role in the middle order varied from anchor to aggressor and he pulled both off with equal acclaim. He also played a key role in forming part of the core of the brains' trust and was often seen chatting to bowlers, setting fields and helping make tactical decisions.

Dale Steyn
Although he operated in the shadows of Philander, Steyn's success cannot be overlooked. He was South Africa's second highest wicket-taker, with 14 scalps at an average of 21.57, and threatened the batsmen throughout. With little swing on offer in any of the venues, Steyn had to rely on pace to make inroads and it worked most of the time. The series showed that his determination and ability to be dangerous has not faded an inch. In Durban, he went wicketless in the first innings, the first time since 2008 that he had not taken a single stick in a complete innings, but retuned with a five-for in the second.

Jacques Kallis
After two relatively nondescript performances, Kallis turned things around with an all-round effort of the highest quality in Cape Town. In Durban, Kallis recorded his first ever pair in Test cricket and responded with the second double-century of his career. Talk before the Newlands Test was that age was finally catching with the great allrounder and his reactions against the short ball, in particular, were too slow. He erased all of that with a magnificent 224 which included some of the finest pulls of the series. To add to that, Kallis took six catches, five of them at second slip, and claimed three wickets.

Graeme Smith
Not since Bangladesh in 2008 has Smith led South Africa to a Test series win at home. As a leader, he was shrewd and street smart. He managed his bowlers cleverly, using the three attacking seamers in short bursts, handling Kallis' workload well and allowing Imran Tahir to settle into his role in the side. Smith's contributions with the bat were underwhelming and after he got starts in all his innings but only managed to convert one of them. Ironically, that was on the most difficult batting pitch of the series in Centurion.

Imran Tahir
Baby steps have been the strategy to Tahir's inclusion in Test cricket and he made a giant leap in Cape Town, where he bowled a large chunk of the total overs. Although expensive, Tahir ensured he made up for that with wickets, finishing the series with 10 victims. With a good googly and the ability to tease the batsmen, he appears to have made a proper leap to the international arena, although some will argue that the theatrics need to be toned down. Tahir has clearly improved in the other two disciplines of the game as well, fielding with more composure than he is known for. He made handy contributions at No. 11, including a feisty 29 in Centurion and may be eyeing a move up the order.

Marchant de Lange
Last year's most successful bowling debutant, de Lange was sublime in his first match. At 21-years and just 15 first-class matches old, he used pace and bounce to claim 7 for 81 in his first Test innings in Durban. He showed all the qualities of a future star, maintaining good control throughout. He struggled in the second innings as Sri Lanka extended the advantage. Philander's return to fitness saw him miss out on the deciding Test.

Alviro Petersen
He only had one chance but he made the most of it. Petersen was recalled to the side after Rudolph failed to set the stage alight and Petersen grafted hard at domestic level. Against a pumped up Sri Lankan attack, coming off their first win in South Africa, Petersen brought a degree of composure to the top order. He played a chanceless innings, formed a key partnership with Kallis and was the founding stone of South Africa's mammoth total.

Hashim Amla
A quiet series for the man with the bat that usually does the most talking. Amla was dismissed cheaply at Centurion but looked like his usual self in Durban, his home ground, where he has an unusually poor record. He scored twin half-centuries in the match, and was dismissed both times just as he was finding form. He was South Africa's best performer in their worst match, a sign of his ability to respond to pressure, but barely featured in the other two apart from an always eager presence in the field.

Jacques Rudolph
He started the series as an opening batsman and ended it in the middle order. In his first three innings, shot selection let him down as Rudolph was unable to keep the pull down and induced into the drive. After seven innings, with an average of 22.71, the selectors had no choice but to take action. Rudolph was moved to No. 6, as a way to shield him from the top-order assault and pave a way for him to translate his prolific domestic form. On a flat deck at Newlands, after South Africa had piled on over 450 runs, he added a competent half-century. The innings proved he still has it but it remains inconclusive whether he will keep it for pressure situations that are sure to arise in future.

Mark Boucher
Boucher started by providing a fresh reason for prolonging his career with a carefully crafted 65 at Centurion, where he used his experience to shepherd the tail, particularly Tahir. Like most of the South African line-up, he failed in Durban. Boucher took 17 catches and effected a stumping but his performances will be underlined by his two dropped catches. Both were ugly and one of them cost South Africa more than hundred runs. Boucher let Kumar Sangakkara off the hook in Durban and then put down a sitter in Cape Town.

Morne Morkel
As the series went on, Morkel got better, but he ended it still not at his best. At first change, Morkel appears out of sorts and short on confidence. He was expensive and unsuccessful in Centurion and leaked runs in Cape Town with small reward. His best performance came when he was given the new ball in Durban, as a temporary measure in Philander's absence. Of the South African strike bowlers, he had the highest average and will be under the most scrutiny going forward as the reserves, including Lonwabo Tsotsobe, challenge for a place.

Ashwell Prince
Some believe he may have played his last Test innings as he was dropped for the third Test. Prince scored 57 runs in three innings and each of his dismissals were concerning. In Durban, he tried the reverse sweep against Rangana Herath when South Africa were in trouble in the second innings was involved in an embarrassing mix-up with Amla, who was run-out. Prince's place in the side has long been under scrutiny and this series may have been his last chance to put that right.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mark on January 11, 2012, 9:38 GMT

    Although Philander deserves all the praise coming his way and I do wish him a wonderful career, it is a bit early to be calling him the spearhead of the attack. Likewise, one cannot compare his one series against Steyn's many. I do hope his wonderful form continues for this year as he and Steyn can do lots of damage together. With De Lange in for Morkel as a first change.....Bit harsh giving Peterson a 6 when he batted so well in his only innings. Less than 9, hints that he failed somewhat, which he did not. Same as De Lange. One test, 7 wickets...

  • Brad on January 10, 2012, 9:16 GMT

    Philander was awesome, even when the track looked good for batting. I have confidence that he will do well even in the subcontinent. Is he the spearhead? Not a chance! Steyn had a relatively bad series, but he is still the kingpin. Philander performing better in his first couple of Tests means nothing at all, he is a quality bowler, but Steyn is a legend. De Villiers had the luckiest series I have ever seen - he played more chinese cuts than you would find in a chinese food restaurant!

  • John on January 9, 2012, 22:55 GMT

    ratings are a personal preference I suppose but I agree that Morkel's place certainly isn't/shouldn't be as safe as it was at the start of the series after De Lange's performance. Please don't tell any other English fans I posted this but I'm pleased Somerset snapped up Philander for a bit next season. Well if Somerset didn't someone else would have

  • Duncan on January 9, 2012, 14:02 GMT

    When I saw the Prince runout I thought "well that is the end of his test career"; an unfortunate end, but if you are not a team player... and you are not performing ... well ... what do you expect?

  • Warren on January 9, 2012, 10:22 GMT

    Steyn overrated? Have some of you lost it or have you only started watching cricket last week? (or perhaps only watch ODI's and Twenty20...) He is tied with Lillee as the fastest bowler in HISTORY in getting 250 Test wickets, and was just one wicket away from breaking the record. He performs brilliantly all over the world. He can't get 8-10 wickets per match all the time!! He is human after all. Morkel is overrated, that I agree with, but heavens, not Steyn!!

  • ABDUL AZIZ on January 9, 2012, 9:33 GMT

    @DAN9999 and Sarfin. Your bias against Philander is evident. A player of colour, in his debut test series made the biggest impact and contribution to our series win. He has the best strike rate in domestic cricket. Firdoose has judged him in the context of his extraordinary achievements in this series. Steyn would not be laughing if Philander happens to be the new spearhed... only happy that he has a reliable new ball partner. Tahir fully deserves his rating, having taken some important wickets and also deprived of a few more from dropped catches. These factors are not given any relevence in some biased comments against two impressive newcomers.

  • Dummy4 on January 9, 2012, 6:10 GMT

    I disagree with a matter of overall assessment which influences a lot of marks. Throughout this summer the top-order batsmen failed in adverse conditions with a lot of excellent bowling. In the first two tests Sri Lanka's pace attack was the surprise package, bowling very well. The difference throughout was whether the top-order batsmen could survive for a while to take the sting out of the initial attack. That was the difference, not the bowling. By the time De Villiers got to bat in Centurion, the sting was gone and it was easy. Durban was the only time where Sri Lanka's top-order fired and that made the difference.

    In the final test of the summer things were completely different. It was easy batting first and without Fernando Sri Lanka suddenly had no idea how to bowl first up. In Cape Town it was about bowling out the middle order and only South Africa could do that. I think the assessments of Petersen, Smith, Tahir, Kallis, Rudolph, Boucher and Amla are consequently all skewed.

  • Johnathon on January 9, 2012, 5:44 GMT

    Sri Lanka looked like they had Steyn under control, but to everyone who saw the Test Match Series, it was Vernon Philander who was the difference. Philander blew away Sri Lanka batsman and released pressure on other bowlers and the SA batsman. Mind you, the only match in which Sri Lanka did win was the one that Philander did not play in and that match had no choking, they were comprehensively beaten

  • Vleis on January 9, 2012, 5:27 GMT

    @MH19: For the sake of SL cricket, I hope that your countrymen do not think like you. In order to improve, you must be honest regarding your weaknesses. The SL bowling is very poor at the moment. SA's top three bowlers (not just one) had series averages that are much, much better than the best SL bowler. In fact even our new, inexperienced spinner (our 4th best bowler) took as many wickets as the best SL bowler (Herath) in less overs bowled. Also, apart from Samaraweera and Chandimal, the whole SL team had series batting averages of less than 30. If that sits well with you then good luck.

  • Amal on January 9, 2012, 2:56 GMT

    It is ridiculous to see Alviro and de Lange in the same scale as Smith and Tahir. The former two players should be evaluated considering their only appearance, and should not be averaged for 3 matches!. Both should get at least 8.

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