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Vernon can get better – Smith

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Proteas captain Graeme Smith issued a brutal warning to the rest of the cricket world, saying Vernon Philander can get even better. Photo by Shaun Roy

Cape Town – Proteas captain Graeme Smith issued a brutal warning to the rest of the cricket world on Sunday, saying Vernon Philander can get even better.

Smith was cock-a-hoop after his team chased down Pakistan’s 182 to win the second Test on the fourth evening at Newlands. It also propelled South Africa to a 2-0 series victory, with only the final Test remaining at Centurion next week. However, with a coldness of a gladiator, he planted a seed that will generate into nightmares for opposing batting line-ups everywhere.

“I think even though Vern has had the results, even he would say he is still a work in progress,” Smith said of his opening bowler, who claimed 9/99 in this match to take his overall tally to 87 wickets in just 15 Tests. “He has certainly had a few niggles of late. But his skill factor is immense, the seam action he gets out of the hand is almost like the seam bowling version of (Saeed) Ajmal. Standing at slip watching him is great. I think, though, he can (get better). He can pick up a little bit of pace, which will help with his old-ball spells.”

Philander certainly did not need the extra pace yesterday when it was his old-ball spell that tore the heart out of Pakistan’s resistance. He brought about the much-needed breakthrough when Asad Shafiq chipped on to his stumps, and went to claim two in two balls after Robin Peterson had clean-bowled Sarfraz Ahmed with the last ball of the previous over.

Man of the Match Peterson was a vastly improved bowler from Pakistan’s first innings and had three wickets to show for his efforts. It seemed he had taken confidence from his match-defining innings with the bat on Saturday when he smashed 84 invaluable runs to edge South Africa to within 12 runs of Pakistan’s total.

Smith was particularly full of praise for Peterson’s effort with the bat, believing that is where the game turned on its head after Saeed Ajmal had decimated the South African top-order with six wickets.

“This has been one of our more rewarding victories, a really good Test win. We were under some real pressure, we needed some big performances. Robbie was inspirational. It was a really big performance. The conditions were challenging. To get us close to their total was the key,” Smith said.

Peterson offered a simple explanation for his success, saying: “I was just fed up with playing tentatively for the last couple of weeks. I have been doing a lot of work behind the scenes with Gary (Kirsten), Russell (Domingo) and Rob Walters to just free myself up, play my natural game and express myself.”

It all happened so swiftly on Sunday afternoon to suggest South Africa had yet again overwhelmed the opposition. To suggest that as fact would be grossly incorrect. For almost four days, it was a cracking contest, with both teams providing gripping entertainment for the fans.

But hard though Pakistan have competed in this second Test, the No 1 Test side in the world were not simply going to let the opportunity of winning five Tests, going 14 matches undefeated and clinching six series in a row pass them by. And 15 minutes before the close, they did just that through another Hashim Amla half-century and a quick-fire 36 from AB de Villiers.

This South African side are past masters in executing the fourth-innings chase, and even though Alviro Petersen could not capitalise on surviving being caught off a no-ball early on, the prospect of Pakistan levelling the series was never realistic.

Ajmal again bowled his heart out to snare another four wickets to finish with a match tally of 10/147, but the Proteas’ positive mindset rendered it meaningless. Amla played like he wanted Monday off, so too De Villiers, who even double-stepped Pakistan seamer Tanvir Ahmed at one stage.

While Pakistan were content to compete and battle it out with South Africa, they were never quite prepared to take the game by the scruff of its neck and press home the advantage.

In contrast, the Proteas had the confidence of their winning streak to recognise “the big moments” that Smith and coach Gary Kirsten like alluding to, and rollicked along on the fourth afternoon at more than four runs to the over.

With a mindset like this, and the self-assurance to back it up, this Proteas team are going to be hard to beat anywhere in the world, as they have proved now even in conditions that were not tailor-made for them.

AWARDS

The Peter Schmeichel award: Alviro Petersen has let some regulation chances fall in the gully in the recent past, but here at Newlands, he seemed to have glue stuck to his palms. He claimed a blinder in the first innings when he brilliantly stuck out his right hand. Yesterday, he went to the left with both hands like the great Danish goalkeeper to grab another Vernon Philander edge.

Bad judgement award: A major part of batting is to use the willow in your hands to either score runs or defend the wickets. Another mode is the use of the pad in the appropriate manner. Sarfraz Ahmed felt neither was an option and simply looked on as a Robin Peterson delivery turning out of the rough went on to hit his middle stump.

Unlucky award: When the bowler in question has boots as big as size 15, it should be easy to keep them behind the no-ball line. Not so Mohammad Irfan, Pakistan’s giant left-arm fast bowler. Petersen had pulled a short delivery straight to mid-on, only for umpire Steve Davis to check whether Irfan had overstepped. After viewing numerous replays, the television showed that the size 15s had just gone over and Petersen was offered a reprieve.

Celebration award: Saeed Ajmal (pictured) gave off a massive scream and hugged all his teammates when he dismissed Faf du Plessis with South Africa requiring just two runs for victory. It looked rather strange and rather hollow initially, but it was actually meaningful as it completed Ajmal’s fourth 10-wicket haul in his Test career.

I am the law award: Du Plessis challenged umpire Bruce Oxenford’s decision to uphold Ajmal’s lbw appeal. It was rather foolish, with Oxenford having the lowest number of DRS overturns of all umpires on the ICC Umpires Elite Panel. Needless to say, the Australian was proved correct again, and Du Plessis had to sheepishly make his way back to the pavilion. – Cape Times


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