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The man who had to be king

Not so much the man who would be king as the man who had to be king, Shaun Pollock will carry a fair bit of excess baggage in his coffin when he flies off to Sri Lanka with his South African side on Friday.

The South Africans have spent this week in Durban making the expected noises about how they intend to put the match-fixing affair behind them. This is entirely understandable, but however much Pollock and his team try to look ahead in Sri Lanka, the shadow of Hansie Cronje will track them around the island just as it will trail South African cricket for some time to come.

Which means that as much as this tour is about trying to win a Test series, it will be more immediately be concerned with restoring South Africa's credibility in particular and the credibility of the game generally.

Does anyone still believe in cricket? I suspect that the answer is yes, millions in fact, but this is not a particularly good time to go around banging the drum about the game's moral foundations. The Star devoted two pages of letters this week to Hansiegate, and almost without exception the tone was: he made a mistake, but it wasn't pleasant to watch him squirming on television and let's leave him alone now. Very few of the correspondents made mention of the almost incalculable damage Cronje has done to cricket.

This, however, will be very much the concern of the South Africans, Pollock particularly. In the circumstances, it might seem almost heretical to wonder whether he is the right man for the job. In the short term South Africa had little option other than to elevate Pollock, the vice captain, after Cronje's disgrace became known, but is he the right man for the long term.

Pollock, or course, comes with a wonderful pedigree. He is drawn from one of cricket's best stocked gene pools, but he has successfully stepped out from beneath the shadow of his dad and uncle to establish himself as a magnificent player in his own right. He is a wonderful fast/medium bowler, up along there with Glenn McGrath as the best in the world. He has never quite fulfilled his potential as a batsman at Test level, but who knows, perhaps the captaincy will tighten up his game for him.

In the field, he reminds you slightly of his uncle. Graeme caught virtually everything that went his way, but quite clearly, fielding was something you in between batting. Not so much a discipline in its own right, but the stuff that comes before the pudding.

And yet you wonder about Shaun. At times he seems a very young 26-year-old. In England two years ago, a cynic seemed to sum him up nicely: "He still giggles when someone farts in the dressing room."

The truth is that Shaun Pollock sometimes seems young beyond his years. In many ways this is an enviable quality, but does it a good captain make?

In some quarters the view is held that Pollock might be keeping the job warm for Mark Boucher in a couple of years' time. Boucher, certainly, matured astonishingly as a cricket last summer. It might be no exaggeration to suggest that he ended the summer a 20 percent better player than he had been during the World Cup.

He is a bit shy of experience at the highest level, and although he is learning all the time, may still have a little way to go. He looks, however, a more obvious leader of men than Pollock, but one who would be prepared to play a supporting role, for the time being at least.

As a couple, the pair carry an enormous responsibility with the to Sri Lanka. Graham Ford is a still a relatively inexperienced coach at this level, although his self-effacing approach will probably be an advantage in the current circumstances.

Regular manager Goolam Rajah will not travel with the team today. He is recovering from a shoulder operation and the side will be taken across and looked after for the first two or three weeks by Doug Russell, the United Cricket Board's affable and regular liaison with touring teams to this country.

In the circumstances, though, having an understaffed, rather than beefed up, management team for the first post-Hansiegate tour is far from ideal. It will place additional pressure on Pollock and Boucher. How they cope with it could be a pointer to the future.