Pollock sets the pace as South Africa take grip on second Test
For much of the festive season the South African have been wondering out loud what it might be like to be play on an authentic home pitch. They found out on the first day of the second Castle Lager/MTN Test match against Sri Lanka at Newlands on Tuesday.
On a pitch that offered more pace and bounce than any South African Test wicket this summer, Sri Lanka were bundled out for just 95 with South Africa fashioning 130 for two in reply before stumps.
Shaun Pollock took six for 30. He had very good reason to be pleased with the way things went.
"The best thing I did was lose the toss," he said afterwards. "We always thought there would be a bit of bounce and that was what assisted us. All we did was use the swing up front and there was a bit of away movement and a bit of bounce and carry and I think, not having played on too many of those wickets this season, from our batting point of view the guys came in and said they'd had a workout. They hadn't had balls coming on to them like that for some time."
A bit of a workout it might have been for the South African batsmen, but it was doubly so for Sri Lanka. From the start of the tour the Sri Lankans have talked about adjusting to the bounce of the South African wickets. At Kingsmead they didn't have to worry about it. At Newlands, however, the chickens came home to roost.
But to attribute the Sri Lankan collapse entirely to the pitch would be unfair to the South Africans who bowled and caught superbly. Pollock, in particular, was quite magnificent.
Although he is the slowest of the four South African seamers employed on Tuesday, his eyes lit up at a pitch that gave something back to him. He had a purple patch at the starting of the Sri Lankan innings, taking four for none in the space of 13 balls as the visitors slipped to 13 for four and he twice pinged a Sri Lankan helmet, something he hasn't done for quite a while.
Pollock had a beautiful away shape going that accounted for Marvan Atapattu, Mahela Jayawardene and, coming in to the left-hander, Russel Arnold. He also slid one across Sanath Jayasuriya to once again sent the Sri Lankan captain packing cheaply and played a part in getting rid of Avishka Gunawardene, unsettling the batsman with a bouncer that rattled the earpiece. Mfuneko Ngam picked up the wicket in the following over.
Ngam does not have anything like Pollock's control, but he is quick and none of the tourists enjoyed facing him. He claimed three wickets after lunch, including that of Kumar Sangakkara who, alone among the Sri Lankans, seemed to have the stomach for it and although he is likely to drop out when Allan Donald returns, he has already demonstrated that he can fit in at this level.
That there were runs in the pitch was shown when South Africa batted, but not before Herschelle Gibbs' return to the crease. With all the talk of whether he should or should not be playing, it was almost inevitable that his return would be extraordinary. It was, but it lasted only two balls.
One of the South African selectors has privately justified Gibbs' return on the perfectly legitimate grounds that his ban was for six months, not six months and a couple of days or another Test match.
In the end the 13 000 at Newlands saw Gibbs go tamely, pushing tentatively at Chaminda Vaas to be caught at the wicket. He was, however, fortunate in that his return was largely overshadowed by South Africa having such a good day.
Gary Kirsten, dropped in the gully on 36 by Jayasuriya, helped himself to 52, Jacques Kallis ended the day one short of 50 and Daryll Cullinan looked in ominous nick on one of his favourite grounds. It is difficult to see how Sri Lanka can drag themselves back into this match.
However well they bowl, they will have to hope South Africa make a mess of an excellent position. And even then, the confidence of their batsmen has quite clearly been undermined. Their tour has reached critical mass.