England v South Africa: Philander leaves England staring at defeat
Third Test, Lord's (day four):
South Africa 309 & 351 v England 315 & 16-2
England are on the verge of surrendering their number one ranking to South Africa after a miserable end to the fourth day of the final Test at Lord's.
Needing 346 to win the match, draw the series and stay top of the International Cricket Council rankings, England lost Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss, both lbw to Vernon Philander, to close on 16-2.
Earlier, the England bowlers stuck to their task in dismissing South Africa for 351, although Hashim Amla was able to complete his second century of the series.
His dismissal for 121 was the first wicket in a spell of 3-14 from Steven Finn which gave Strauss's men a glimmer of hope.
But JP Duminy and Philander blunted the England revival and manoeuvred South Africa into a position from which it will take something extraordinary to prevent them from moving to the top of the rankings.
"The difference between the sides was illustrated when James Anderson dropped AB de Villiers. By my reckoning, that is the ninth chance that Andrew Strauss's team have put down in the series, which is astonishing over three matches."
Indeed, facing what would be their highest successful fourth-innings chase, the hosts made the worst possible start as both openers fell inside the first four overs.
With Philander swinging the ball back into the left-handers, Cook played around a length ball before Strauss inexplicably shouldered arms to one that would have hit the top of middle stump. Neither decision was reviewed.
Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell managed to survive until stumps to ensure that England's fifth-day task is not even more challenging.
Their victory target might have been less daunting had James Anderson not spilled the simplest of chances presented by AB de Villiers on eight.
Fielding at short mid-wicket off Graeme Swann, Anderson barely had to move to take a low catch. He lay on the turf in disbelief after seeing it hit the ground.
With England looking for quick wickets in the morning session, the chance proved costly as De Villiers - at the crease after night-watchman Dale Steyn looped a simple catch to short leg off Stuart Broad - shared a fifth-wicket stand of 95 with Amla.
Amla, who himself offered a much more difficult chance to Matt Prior on Saturday, batted with typical patience, only venturing on to the front foot when absolutely necessary.
Such was the accuracy of England's bowlers, Amla was unable to find the boundary until after lunch, when he steered Trott behind point to reach three figures.
Leading England catchers
- 121: Andrew Strauss (100 Tests)
- 120: Ian Botham (102), Colin Cowdrey (114)
- 110: Wally Hammond (85)
- 105: Graham Thorpe (100)
- 103: Graham Gooch (108)
- 95: Paul Collingwood (68)
Figures do not include wicketkeepers
At that stage, with the second new ball not paying immediate dividends, Amla and De Villiers looked set to bat England into the ground, but Finn's spell changed the momentum of what has been an absorbing, fluctuating Test.
He twice got the ball to seam up the slope, first to clip the top of Amla's off stump, then to entice De Villiers to edge to Strauss at first slip. The skipper, in his 100th Test, safely clung on for his 121st catch, an England record.
Finn switched to go around the wicket for the left-handed pair of Duminy and Jacques Rudolph, the latter nibbling at one that seamed away and the tumbling Prior completing the catch.
England's hopes of keeping their target to manageable proportions were dented by Duminy and Philander, who absorbed the pressure and inched the Proteas to 300 and beyond.
Philander, having made a vital 61 in the first innings, reined in his attacking instincts before slapping a short ball from Anderson to point.
From there, the tail was quickly mopped up as Duminy, rendered practically shotless, remained unbeaten. Finn finished with 4-74.
Although England are entitled to be satisfied with their efforts with the ball, and the knowledge that the Proteas would have wanted to set a stiffer target, Philander's double strike rendered both matters academic.
Come Monday, it is surely a question of when, rather than if, Test cricket's new world number one team will be crowned.