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January 3, 2007
Shaun Pollock was delighted by the manner in which South Africa fought back on the second day at Newlands, but he wasn't about to take anything for granted with his side still 270 adrift on first innings. Pollock's nagging accuracy fetched him figures of 4 for 75, and contributed to India losing their way in the afternoon - the last five wickets fell for just 19.
By stumps, Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla had taken South Africa to 144 for 1 after Sreesanth had got AB de Villiers early. According to Pollock, the fate of the match rested largely in the hands of South Africa's batsmen, with batting supposed to be at its easiest on day three.
"We haven't discussed that at this stage," said Pollock, when asked what sort of score his team was looking at. "There's a lot of cricket to be played. We can't afford to get too ahead of ourselves. We need to find a partnership tomorrow and launch from there. But the quicker we do get a big score, the more time it gives us to try and win the Test match.
"That's the ideal route. We find ourselves in a good position now because we got those five wickets so quickly at the end. That was really the turning point for us. And to have batted the way we have sets up a base to launch from. We were pretty comfortable throughout the afternoon."
While Pollock's wickets came as no surprise, there would have been some consternation in the Indian dressing room over the identity of the other four-wicket man. Paul Harris was making his debut, and at times this morning, he was clouted over the infield. But each time, he held his nerve to strike back with a telling blow, showing the sort of character that won Pollock's approval.
"They do score quickly, and their idea was to take on the spinner," said Pollock. "There was a little bit of risk involved [in bowling Harris from one end], but we always knew there was going to be an opportunity. I thought he bowled very well. To take some big scalps like he did - I think Sehwag and Sachin are pretty good players of spin. For him to come into his debut Test match and have those two was pretty big for him."
Though the pitch showed few signs of deterioration late on day two, Pollock was hopeful that things would be different once the game went into the final two days. "If we can bat well in this innings, it might be easier for the bowlers later on with variable bounce and the cracks starting to widen.
"We'd like to get as much as we possibly can. It's very dangerous to talk about big targets; it can easily backfire on you. Any lead we can get will be fantastic. If we can get them into a pressure situation and be 150 ahead, then they will be behind the eight-ball fighting back to try and get back into the game. If the wicket starts misbehaving, then we're really in the front seat."
His one-time new-ball partner, Makhaya Ntini, went wicketless; a rare occurrence for him in a home Test, and Pollock admitted that bowling on a placid pitch had been no vineyard stroll. "There's probably not that much in it for the seamers," he said. "Maybe, there's a little bit of reverse swing going. There's some assistance for the spinners, especially from out of the rough at one end.
"You'd expect that day three is best for batting, and you'd expect the pitch to wear on days four and five. If we can build up a big score tomorrow, we can use the wear and tear on days four and five. It only needs two or three balls to misbehave to get you wickets."
Before all that though, he might need to bat. And on the evidence of Durban, where his accomplished second-innings 63 set India an imposing 354 to chase, few will be as well-equipped to handle the Kumble factor.
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