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'It's a huge Test match for us' - Pollock

Shaun Pollock, the local hero who picked up his 400th Test victim in the first Test at the Wanderers, admitted that South Africa would need to lift their game by at least "20 to 30 percent" if they were to revive their fortunes in the three-Test series against India. Pollock accepted that he and his team-mates had been well below their best in the 123-run loss, but was confident that they had the quality to turn things around.

"We have done very well in South Africa over the years," he said, alluding to a record of only 14 defeats in 71 home Tests since readmission to the international game. "But we lost here in Durban against the Pakistanis [1997-98] and managed to turn it around. It's always there in the back of our minds that we don't want to lose the series. In order to win it, we've got to win the next two. So it's a huge Test match for us. We need to level the series here, go on to Cape Town and hopefully win there."

Pollock said that the mood in the dressing room remained upbeat, and that the team would make the most of one further practice session on Monday morning before the Test starts on Boxing Day. Pollock will spend Christmas at home with his family, but was clear that the Indians shouldn't expect any belated presents once they cross the boundary line at Kingsmead. "We're disappointed at having lost the Test match," he said. "It was a severe blow for us. It damaged our pride a little bit, so we need to get that back and we're very keen to set the record straight."

Though he himself had a fine game at the Wanderers, having Rahul Dravid caught behind for his 400th wicket, Pollock said that the collective performance had been a depressing one. "We're quite disappointed on the bowling front, we could have done better," he said. "On the batting side, to be knocked out for 84 is just unheard of for South African sides, especially back home.

"We haven't focussed too much on that. We're moving forward now, and we need to hit the right areas in the next Test match. It's a different kind of wicket, so what we discussed there doesn't really count here."

He defended his new-ball partner, Makhaya Ntini, saying that everyone was entitled to the occasional ordinary game, and expressed his doubts over whether Graeme Smith would opt for a spin option in the shape of Paul Harris. And when it was put to him that South Africa' bowling line-up had been predictable and one-dimensional at the Wanderers, he came back with a sharp response.

"It makes good stories, doesn't it?" he asked. "If you look at the five that played at the Wanderers, we've got the sheer pace of Dale Steyn who shapes it away, and Makhaya Ntini who shapes it in. Andre Nel is a tall bowler who has got a different action, I'm the sort of the guy who hits areas, and Jacques Kallis is a genuine away-swing bowler. If that's lacking variation, then I would hate to see a combination that has got variation. Probably the only thing we might have lacked was a spinner."

There was praise for Sreesanth - "The ball comes out of his hand lovely, the seam is upright" - but he hesitated to label India's attack the best to come out of the country. "I have played against an attack that had Javagal Srinath, and I think he was the best fast bowler that India has produced," said Pollock. "He was remarkable over the years, the way he got the ball to talk, not only in seamer-friendly conditions in South Africa but on some very flat wickets in India. So any attack that had him would probably be the best Indian fast-bowling attack that I have seen so far."

There has been the odd rumour doing the rounds that the upcoming Test series against Pakistan could be Pollock's last, but he insisted that such thoughts hadn't been given any serious thought in the midst of a season that will culminate with the World Cup in the Caribbean.

"I always re-assess at the end of each season and see where I'm going," he said. "I feel like I have got this one and another one, maybe, in me. So no, there's no retirement imminent."

The cricket fraternity, poised to lose two of its all-time greats at Sydney, will be relieved to hear that.