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Verdict

Ntini and Pollock still the best pairing

Andrew McGlashan's verdict from the second day of the third Test at Johannesburg



Makhaya Ntini was the star for South Africa but lacked consistent support © Getty Images
As Andre Nel sprayed the new ball all over the shop, Shaun Pollock stood with hands on hips at mid-on. South Africa stated their intention of opening with Nel before the innings started, which came as no surprise, but Pollock looked increasingly frustrated at the loose offerings being dished up to the Australian batsmen.
The debate about the best order for the South African attack is not a new one. Since Pollock began to lose pace a couple of years ago, and the match-winning hauls dried up, the suggestion has been that the new ball should be thrown to the bowlers likeliest to strike rather than just keeping it tight, which Pollock can still do expertly.
Pollock's last five-wicket haul came at Faisalabad - not a place fast bowlers usually remember with fondness - when he took 6 for 78 in 2003-04. Since then he has played 22 Tests, and taken 77 wickets at nearly 32 apiece. To begin with, though the five-fors dried up, Pollock still chipped in with useful hauls, but during the last year even those have become elusive. The last time he took more than three in an innings was against England, at Johannesburg, in January 2005.
But throughout his career Pollock has been a bowler who, never mind bagging nearly 400 wickets for himself, has earned countless numbers for the guy at the other end. It was no coincidence today when Pollock took over from Nel after lunch that Makhaya Ntini enjoyed his golden spell and ripped out the Australian top order. The end-of-play bowling figures suggested Nel performed a steadier role than Pollock, and he did improve in his later spells, but when it really mattered - up front with a hard new ball - he wasted the opportunity.
Ntini doesn't try to be an economical bowler, as his figures today testify, but what he offers is wicket-taking aggression. When that is combined with Pollock's accuracy it produces an ideal pairing. However, Nel's efforts with the new ball threatened to waste the advantage given to South Africa by Ntini's early blows - both the physical one to Justin Langer and the removal of Matthew Hayden.
At the start of the post-lunch session Jacques Kallis handed Pollock the ball, fed up of Nel's tendency to drift down the leg side, and the senior bowler was immediately making the batsmen play, jagging the ball off the seam. Again, the wickets didn't come his way, but Ntini certainly reaped the benefits of having the batsmen tied down, especially with Damien Martyn and Ricky Ponting in shot-a-ball mode. When Ntini hits a purple patch he can be as destructive as anyone. His wide delivery angle makes him naturally effective against left-handers and when there is a pitch offered disconcerting lift - as this Wanderers track certainly does - he has the hit-the-deck style to exploit it.
Pollock will certainly not believe his days as a Test match opening bowler are behind him. He now rarely hits much above the mid 120kph-mark but speed is not everything when it comes to using the new ball. Glenn McGrath has shown this, while Matthew Hoggard has been a key part of England's attack without having to rival Steve Harmison or Andrew Flintoff for pace. The key is putting the ball in the right place, something Pollock is a past master at. South Africa would do well not to shunt him down the pecking order too quickly. On a pitch offering plenty of encouragement for all the bowlers he could yet play a crucial role in this match.