South Africa vs India 2018: Vernon Philander's career-best spell is SK Turning Point of the match
When Dale Steyn hobbled off the field during the second day of the match, there had been plenty of concerns in the South African camp. However, Vernon Philander rose to the occasion and reiterated his reputation as the spearhead of Proteas' bowling attack in a gripping fourth day's play in Cape Town.
With the hosts defending 208 runs on a surface providing significant assistance for the seamers, Philander registered his career-best figures of 6/42 to blow India's batting lineup to smithereens. The right-armer's relentless spell enabled South Africa to raze the visitors for just 108 and pocket a 72-run victory in the series opener.
Indian seamers jolt South Africa
When the penultimate day's play began, South Africa were sitting pretty with a lead of 142 runs. But things soon began to go awry as India's seam attack operated splendidly to spring a surprise during the first session.
Mohammed Shami prised out Hashim Amla to set the tone for a pulsating day of cricket. Jasprit Bumrah produced a couple of outstanding deliveries to help India see the back of Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock.
Philander was sent on his way back for a 10-ball duck. Even though he looked to counter-attack and unsettle the firing bowlers, AB de Villiers saw wickets fall regularly at the other end and lost his own while attempting an expansive hoick. With the dicey track and overhead conditions combining to make batting seem treacherous, India found themselves facing the prospect of a stiff run-chase.
Probing Philander has the last laugh
Unlike in their first innings, India got off to a reasonable start as Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay saw off the first seven overs without any damage. Morne Morkel exploited the southpaw's uneasiness against the short ball to provide the Proteas with a handy scalp. In the very next over, Philander doubled the local crowd's delight by luring out the technically sound right-hander.
30/2 soon became 39/3 when Philander picked up the most crucial wicket of the innings. Cheteshwar Pujara, arguably India's best batsman, could not do much against a delivery which hit the seam and moved a fraction away from him.
Realising the futility of defensive approach in such turbulent circumstances, Virat Kohli batted purposefully and started to chip away at the required target. When a promising partnership seemed to be blossoming between the Indian skipper and Rohit Sharma, Philander punctured the tourists' hopes by accounting for both batsmen.
While Kohli was undone by a ball which swung back in, Rohit's lack of foot work was mercilessly laid bare by the probing seam bowler from Bellville. The timely double blow virtually cleared the path for South Africa to march towards victory.
Kagiso Rabada dismissed Hardik Pandya and Wriddhiman Saha in quick succession to leave India reeling at 82/7. When the final session of the fourth day began, the writing was almost on the wall. However, the unlikely duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Bhuvneshwar Kumar showed admirable resistance to keep everyone on tenterhooks.
At 77 runs adrift of the target, the gritty partnership allowed India to dream once again. Philander duly responded by rising to the occasion. Operating with the wicket-keeper standing up to the stumps, he countered Ashwin's handling of the late movement and delivered the decisive blow.
Thereafter, Philander cleaned up the tail to hasten the completion of the match. From 15.4 overs, he picked up as many as six wickets and conceded only 42 runs. This was the best figures in his stellar career thus far. Going farther than mere statistics, the relentless spell was certainly right out of the top-drawer in the eventful history of a venue which has always been his bastion.