Vernon Philander wrapped up the tail before South Africa chose to bat again © AFP
Giving South Africa’s three-pronged pack pack some time to put their feet up after a quick turnaround between the Boxing Day and New Year’s Tests was the main reason behind Faf du Plessis not enforcing the follow-on against Sri Lanka in Cape Town. Although the Port Elizabeth Test ended early on the fifth morning and Sri Lanka’s first innings at Newlands was only 43 overs long, with just two days between matches and winds blowing at over 45kph through the day, Vernon Philander said the attack would benefit from rest before being asked to finish the job.
“We’ve taken a decision as to what’s the best chance for us to win this game,” Philander said. “We feel that setting the game up with the bat and giving the bowlers a break – these are back-to-back Tests and we had quite a busy workload in Port Elizabeth – is the best way going forward and the best way for us to win this game.”
Their break may not last that long, though, because Philander predicted they would start thinking of closing shop as early as the end of the first session on day three. South Africa’s lead is already 317, with three days still available to play. “There’s a lot of time left in the Test,” he said. “It’s a bit early to go for a target. We’ve got to respect the opposition and start well again in the morning. Hopefully we can make a decision at lunchtime as to what’s a good target and how quickly we want to get there.”
Whatever South Africa set Sri Lanka, Philander does not expect wickets to come as easily in the second innings. Much like the first 15 overs, when both he and Kyle Abbott beat the bat consistently, Philander expects the pacemen will have to “invest” by staying consistent and then waiting for the batsmen to make mistakes. “You know there’s going to come a time and you’re going to reap the rewards. We invested well with the new ball, myself and Kyle. That’s just how the game works. You don’t get the rewards initially but we invested well and the rewards came later.”
The rewards were subsequently enjoyed by Kagiso Rabada, who Philander praised for a “very good” post-tea spell, sprinkled with good use of the short ball. “He has got those moments and spells in him,” Philander said. “There’s a lot of be seen of KG and hopefully he can keep taking wickets and set things up for us.”
It was left to Philander to tear through the tail. In the process, he picked up his 150th Test wicket. After racing to 100 scalps in 19 matches, to become the fastest South African to the milestone, he then had to wait another 20 Tests to take the next 50. In the midst of that he also suffered an ankle injury that kept him out of the game for most of the 2015-16 summer and is now relishing being back to his best.
“I cherish every moment just being back because I know what a frustration it was being out of the game,” Philander said. “I just want to go out there and perform at my best every time I get an opportunity. When you’re out of the game you really miss those moments and you start to feel what it’s like not being a part of it. There’s no better place to take my 150th wicket than Newlands, my home ground with my home support.”
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo