January 22, 2001

Pollock gives series a ginger tint

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Man of the match, man of the series, winning captain - about the only accolade Shaun Pollock was missing at the conclusion of the third Castle Lager/MTN Test match was man of the century, and it's a fair bet that if a vote was taken now for the honour he'd be up there among the contenders.

Not that he doesn't deserve the plaudits: South Africa's innings and seven runs victory over Sri Lanka at SuperSport on Monday completed a magnificent season for the home team. South Africa won four out of six home Test matches this summer, with the two missing matches both suffering from interference from the weather, and 10 out of 11 one-day internationals.

This is an impressive record, whichever way you look at it, and the quality of the cricket played by the South Africans, particularly in the last two Test matches as Sri Lanka were crushed by an innings, has done much to help the country consign Hansie Cronje to his unfortunate place in history.

For Pollock, the Sri Lankan series was an almost uninterrupted triumph. He took his 200th Test wicket in the first Test in Durban, claimed six for 30 to blast Sri Lanka out for 95 in the first innings at Newlands and then hammered out a maiden Test century at better than a run a ball - after South Africa had been 204 for seven - at SuperSport Park.

He has now established himself as one of the world's leading all-rounders, an adventurous captain and a leader able to inspire both the youngsters and veterans in his side. It has been a remarkable learning curve for the 27-year-old.

The outcome at SuperSport Park on Monday amounted to little more than a formality. The only real ambition remaining for the Sri Lankans, 184 for three overnight, was to reach 259 and make South Africa bat again.

They failed by seven runs, but perhaps more disappointing for all concerned, came when Kumar Sangakkara was denied a century and a rare opportunity to carry his bat through an innings.

He was last man out for 98 after batting for 10 minutes less than six hours and it is doubtful that even the South Africans would have begrudged him his hundred. To make matters worse for the young man, his LBW decision, claimed by Makhaya Ntini and given by Peter Willey, looked a bit iffy.

But Sangakkara (and Russel Arnold on Sunday) was about all Sri Lanka had to take from the match. They were handicapped by the absence of Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas, but in truth it was their batting rather than their bowling that let them down, in this match and throughout their tour.

At the start of the tour Sanath Jayasuriya had expressed concern about the lack of preparation his batsmen would have on South African pitches and he made the point again at the end of if.

He did single out Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene as batsmen who had moved forward on the tour, and said that Muralitharan had bowled magnificently. But he had to concede that the batsmen had let the side down.

There are quite clear lessons for the Sri Lankan management and administration from this tour. If they are not absorbed, the next side to tour here will suffer a similar fate.

But it has been South Africa's, and Pollock's, match and series. Pollock singled out the performances of others as the high points of the summer - Neil McKenzie's maiden Test century in Port Elizabeth and Ntini's bowling in Bloemfontein - but everyone else will remember him scything through the Sri Lankan batting in Cape Town and thrashing the bowling all over Centurion. This particular series has been coloured with a ginger rinse.