India v South Africa, 4th ODI, Kolkata November 25, 2005

Pollock's Second Coming



Shaun Pollock is back to his incisive best © Getty Images

In tandem with Allan Donald, he was perhaps Glenn McGrath's equal. But once Donald pulled the curtain down on an illustrious career in the wake of a spectacularly botched World Cup campaign, Shaun Pollock's star waned steadily.

In 186 games leading up to that Duckworth-Lewis elimination at Sri Lankan hands in Durban - which also ended his reign as captain - Pollock had been one of one-day cricket's supreme performers, picking up 268 wickets at 22.83. Just as impressive was his economy-rate (3.76) and strike-rate (36.3) - figures comparable to the very best in the business - and he had accounted for the gradual loss of pace with variety, and an uncanny ability to adjust according to the conditions.

But following the World Cup dream-turned-nightmare, Pollock's bowling lost its zing. In 58 subsequent matches before he arrived in India a fortnight ago, he had added just 57 victims, and they came at a cost of 33.19 apiece. While the economy-rate (3.89) remained in the miserly category, the strike-rate ballooned to 51.1. Teams started to target his second spell, and even the usually incisive first salvo seldom delivered the breakthroughs.

Pollock's inability to intimidate top-order batsmen had much to do with that wretched run last year when South Africa lost 12 of 13 ODIs, and even in the victories against England and West Indies, he was seldom anything more than a steady performer. At the age of 32, the decline appeared to be irreversible.

India, though, has seen the return of the metronomic destroyer who was once as lethal as McGrath. A devastating opening burst at Hyderabad accounted for Sachin Tendulkar and Mohammad Kaif, and Tendulkar was snared again at Bangalore as South Africa made a spirited defence of 169.

Perfect conditions for swing and seam at the Eden Gardens were tailor-made for the revival to continue, and before the end of his fourth over, India's top three were back in the pavilion, contemplating their dismissals in an atmosphere of eerie silence. Tendulkar was once again the prize victim, out to him for the seventh time in ODIs, getting the edge to one that seamed away a touch.

Andre Nel, Charl Langeveldt and Andrew Hall - whose innocuous medium-pace saw off both Virender Sehwag and Mahendra Singh Dhoni - ensured that India would continue to bleed after Pollock's early incisions, as South Africa refused to take their feet off as they had done in Hyderabad after reducing India to 36 for 5.

After such a tour de force from the team's bowling talisman, it was wholly appropriate that Graeme Smith, whose pugnacity and skill have made him a leader to watch for, completed the demolition job. Chasing a paltry target, South Africa could have chosen the sedate path, but that's not the Smith way. His muscular approach - which has fetched him 960 runs at 50.53 in 21 games this year - brooked no argument as India were swept aside with contemptuous ease.

With the dew hampering both the pace bowlers and spinners alike - Harbhajan Singh was still outstanding on a stage he has often dominated - India had no answers as Smith biffed and drove past the infield with unerring accuracy. The straight six off Harbhajan was emblematic of South Africa's dominance as India were KO'd by a terrific one-two punch from Messrs Pollock and Smith. Rahul Dravid and team will need to show plenty of character to take it on the chin and come back swinging in Mumbai.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo

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