Proteas close in on top spot

Philander proves a problem for England with both bat and ball

By Rob Lancaster - Tweet me: @SkySportsLanny.   Last Updated: 20/08/12 5:30pm

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South Africa took a giant step towards replacing England at the top of the ICC Test rankings on a gripping fourth day of the third Test at Lord's.

Attempting to create history and chase down 346 to win the match and level the series at the last attempt, the hosts lost opening duo Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss, both lbw, to close on a rather precarious 16-2.

Vernon Philander dismissed both left-handers and while he might not have quite landed the knockout blow just yet, there is no denying that England are reeling on the ropes in their bid to survive at the summit.

Hashim Amla's 121 had left them needing not only to pull off their highest ever fourth-innings run chase but also surpass the record of 344 that the West Indies made to triumph at the famous venue back in 1984.

Missed chances

England's task would have been much more favourable had they not missed chances in the field, starting with Matt Prior's failure to hang on to a diving chance behind the stumps on the third evening when Amla had made just two.

AB de Villiers then also benefited from a let-off when in single figures, the normally reliable hands of James Anderson suddenly developing a dreadful case of butter fingers at short mid-wicket when presented with a straightforward catch off Graeme Swann's bowling.

The misses proved costly; Amla went on to make his 16th hundred in 62 Tests, during which he put on a 51-run stand for the fourth wicket in association with De Villiers, who hit 43.

England had started the day well enough, getting rid of nightwatchman Dale Steyn nice and early thanks to a superb short ball from Stuart Broad that was gloved up to Ian Bell short leg.

Had Anderson clung on to the opportunity presented by De Villiers cheaply they may well have had ideas of batting during the afternoon. It was the eighth drop by the hosts in the series, a number not expected of a side ranked as the best in the world.

Steve Finn did fire some life back into the contest by taking 3-23 in a seven-over spell with the second new ball, although by that stage the tourists had already put themselves in a strong position.

The Middlesex paceman cleaned up Amla for the second time in the match - an impressive achievement against a man who had hit South Africa's first ever triple hundred in the series opener at the Oval - and then, 12 balls later, had De Villiers snaffled by his skipper and county colleague at first slip.

Historic moment

It was Strauss' 121st catch of his international career, the most by any fielder in England Test history. How he must have wished Anderson had done the same earlier in the day.

Finn dismissed Jacques Rudolph before tea but, not for the last time in the session, Philander (35) was a thorn in their side, helping add 54 in an eighth-wicket partnership with JP Duminy.

James Anderson eventually ended the agony for England and, after Swann had Morne Morkel stumped thanks to a smart piece of thinking by 'keeper Prior, the Lancashire seamer wrapped up the innings by bowling last-man Imran Tahir.

That he kicked the ball away showed the frustration inside, not just for the earlier drop but also due to the match situation.

The mood in the home dressing room will have hardly improved when they fell two down in a hurry, leaving them seemingly certain of falling off their lofty perch. They will resume on Monday on a do-or-die mission, needing a further 330 to stop the powerful Proteas from leapfrogging above them.

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