PERTH, Dec 1 (Reuters) - South Africa's much celebrated pace attack finally fired on the second day of the third test against Australia on Saturday to wrest the momentum away from the hosts for the first time since the opening days of the series.
The Proteas were forced to bat out the final day to save draws in both the Brisbane and Adelaide tests, setting up a Perth showdown with both the series and the top test ranking on the line.
The bowling of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel had played a key role in the series triumph in England that earned them the number one spot in the rankings but on bat-friendly tracks, they had disappointed.
On Saturday, they faced an Australia side charged with confidence after dismissing the tourists for 225 and resuming on 33 for two with high hopes of building a big first-innings lead.
Instead, Steyn (4-40) terrorised the Australians in a brutal spell of fast bowling and took the wickets of opener David Warner, nightwatchman Nathan Lyon and skipper Michael Clarke at the cost of just four runs in the first 40 minutes.
"He's the number one bowler in the world for a reason," said Philander, who chipped in with the dismissal of Ricky Ponting and ended up with figures of two for 55.
"When you bowl on the other side from him it is special and just to bowl the new ball with him is special. The way he can deliver on big moments is unbelievable."
Philander, a late bloomer in test cricket who now ranks third in the ICC bowling rankings, said the conditions and the batting disappointment on Friday had helped transform the fortunes of the bowling unit.
"The wicket has a bit more bounce and the guys have to play a bit more off the back foot, which is good for us because it's similar to the wickets we have back home," he added.
"We knew we had to get 20 wickets to win this game, we didn't bat so well in the first innings which left us a few runs short.
"The bowlers knew they had to step up and bowl them out cheaply. And obviously with Steyn this morning, it was a pleasure to be bowling from the other side."
With a lead of 292 going into the third day, South Africa's number one ranking and their record of not having lost an away test series since 2006 look safe.
Perhaps mindful that the Proteas chased down 414 to win the Perth test four years ago, Philander said they would aim to leave nothing to chance and he was not expecting to be bowling again any time soon.
"There's plenty of time left in the test and we'd obviously like to get as many runs as possible," he concluded. "Tomorrow's a new day and will pose a lot of new challenges, but hopefully we can get another 200-250 runs." (Editing by Ed Osmond)