England set 346 for victory, were dismissed for 294 on Monday’s final day as South Africa took the three-match series 2-0.
Man-of-the-match Philander wrapped up the contest with two wickets in two balls to finish with five for 30 after Matt Prior had threatened to lead England to an improbable victory with a dashing 73.
This was England’s first home series defeat since losing to South Africa four years ago and the first time they had lost a home series by a margin of at least two Tests since the 2001 Ashes series with Australia.
“That was a bit closer than we were hoping, Prior and [Graeme] Swann played some incredible shots after tea so we had to hang in there, as we knew the new ball was around the corner,” said South Africa captain Graeme Smith.
“Vernon Philander was outstanding with bat and ball. To deal with the pressure of playing England in England and to have won the series is a great feeling.”
During the celebrations Smith wore a shirt with the words, “miss u Bouch” which was a tribute to Mark Boucher, the team’s former wicketkeeper, who was forced to retire before the tour after suffering a serious eye injury when a bail flicked up into his face during a tour game.
Smith said: “This is a message from all of us. He [Boucher] has been part of us for 147 games and this was meant to be his 150th.
“This victory was for him and for everything he has done for us.”
Smith added he was under no illusions about the challenge his side now faced to stay at No 1.
“Australia next is going to be a big challenge for us and there are a few teams out there that are good enough to compete at the top,” he said.
Meanwhile a delighted Philander added: “I just tried to stay calm and contribute to the team and it paid off. We knew that if we got the ball up in the right areas it would get a nick.”
South Africa, who won the first Test at The Oval by an innings and 12 runs before the second Test at a draw at Headingley, only had to avoid defeat at Lord’s to replace England at the top of the rankings.
History was against England as the most they had ever made in the fourth innings to win a Test was the 332 for seven they posted against Australia at Melbourne back in 1928/29.
Seam bowler Philander had removed Strauss, in his 100th Test, and fellow left-handed opener Alastair Cook late Sunday to reduce the hosts to 16 for two at the fourth day’s close.
Philander struck again early yesterday when he had Ian Bell caught, at the second attempt, for his overnight score of four by Smith at first slip before a terrible mix-up saw James Taylor run out.
Jonathan Bairstow, who made a gallant 95 after coming in at 54 for four in the first innings, walked out to bat with England in an even worse position at 45 for four.
But he showed his class before playing back to a low delivery from leg-spinner Imran Tahir to be bowled for 54 off just 47 balls with eight fours.
And 134 for five became 146 for six when Jonathan Trott, playing away from his body, was brilliantly caught by second slip Jacques Kallis off fast bowler Dale Steyn for 63 after more than three-and-a-half hours at the crease.
Left-handed batsman Stuart Broad pulled Steyn for six but a stand of 62 with Prior ended when, on 37, he hooked a Kallis bouncer to Amla at long leg.
At tea, England were 221 for seven, still needing a further 125 runs for victory. They then scored rapidly with Swann driving leg-spinner Imran Tahir and hooking fast bowler Kallis for two sixes.
A run out derailed England’s charge, Tahir gathering Jacques Rudolph’s wild throw to leave Swann, whose 41 also featured five fours, short of his ground.
Together with Prior, he had put on 74 in 66 balls but England were now 282 for eight.
Prior, on 67, was reprieved when he holed out to JP Duminy off Morne Morkel only for replays to indicate a no-ball.
But on 73 he edged Philander, armed with the new ball to Smith and next ball the all-rounder, who also made valuable runs, had last man Steven Finn caught by Kallis to leave the Proteas celebrating their triumph.
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