Pollock turns the clock back

Graeme Smith, the South African skipper, with the trophy.-AP

South Africa clinched the ODI Series against Pakistan 3-2, soon after winning the Test series 1-0. And skipper Graeme Smith was ecstatic when he said, “I don’t think any South African team has won two trophies on the subcontinent. Of course, we can still improve but two series victories is fantastic.”

Graeme Smith,

How quickly we judge people, how easily we write them off! Especially, when it comes to cricketers in the twilight zone, the fans jump to write their career obituaries, irrespective of the fact that they had idolised these players and enjoyed their performances till recently. Several international sportspersons have proved the fans terribly wrong.

The move by the South African cricket selectors to drop all-rounder Shaun Pollock for the two Tests against host Pakistan drew mixed reactions. Some called it pragmatic, while others described it as bad, strategically. One of the pillars of South African cricket, Pollock, 34, unfortunately, had not been in the best of form till then this year either with his medium fast bowling or with the willow.

“We want to try out youngsters,” said the selectors. Pollock, for his part, did not take kindly to being dropped. Having been forced to sit out the two Tests, Pollock showed his mettle in the five-match one-day series. He roared back into form in the fourth ODI at Multan, helping South Africa equal the series at two all and proved to those baying for his blood that he has miles to go before hanging up his boots.

An elegant batsman, Pollock was promoted to No. 3 for the first time in the ODI series, and only for the fourth time in an illustrious career. He rose to the occasion with a commanding 90 off just 84 balls with nine 4s and a six. The knock proved that Pollock, the batsman, needed to be given more opportunities up the order. Chasing Pakistan’s 230 for nine, South Africa started in a whirlwind fashion with Gibbs firing on all cylinders. Skipper Graeme Smith was content on milking the singles. The two put on 65 runs for the first wicket before Gibbs (39, 35 balls) departed.

The spectators were in for a surprise when they saw Pollock walking in. Pollock and skipper Smith (81, 103b) maintained the tempo. As Mickey Arthur, South Africa’s coach, said, the reason for promoting Pollock was his ability to play spin well and at the same time score quickly.

Pollock did just that, cutting Afridi repeatedly for fours and sweeping Abdur Rehman’s left-arm spin. The wicket didn’t aid spin greatly and it was to the Proteas’ advantage. Pollock scripted his 13th ODI half-century without much ado as South Africa went on to win by seven wickets.

Smith, understandably, was thrilled with the victory. “Today we made some decisions and I am very grateful they came off. As captain you’re happy that those gambles come off. Shaun (Pollock) came in and played superbly. Earlier in the year he got a hundred, which was great to see, and he’s been craving for the opportunity to get up the order, especially in these conditions.”

“I enjoyed it,” Pollock said. “Graeme and Herschelle (Gibbs) got us off to a flier and my aim was to take advantage of the Power Plays.” When asked if age was catching up with him, Pollock said, “I am not really feeling my age. Yes, you get sore, but that’s part and parcel of playing international sport. You wake up some mornings and think, ‘Gosh, how am I gonna get out of bed here?’ But that’s also part of the mental side of things, of lifting yourself every morning, lifting yourself out of disappointment, lifting yourself when you’re feeling sore to come back and fight and put in another performance.”

On his future, Pollock said he preferred the shorter version than Test cricket, if given a choice. Picking up the momentum, South Africa sealed the ODI series in the fifth and deciding match defeating Pakistan by 14 runs in an encounter that could have gone either way.

Known to choke under pressure, South Africa kept calm to script a memorable victory, clinching the series 3-2, after its 1-0 win in the two-match Test series. The only sore point was Jacques Kallis’s poor form in the ODI series after his wonderful batting in the Tests. “It’s one of the greatest victories in South Africa’s cricket history,” gushed Cricket South Africa CEO, Ivan Majola. Smith said, “I don’t think any South African team has won two trophies on the subcontinent. Of course, we can still improve but two series victories is fantastic.”

Pakistan did have its moments. A consistent Mohammad Yousuf made a timely century (117, 143 balls, 9x4) in the second ODI at Lahore ensuring that the host defeated South Africa by 25 runs and levelled the series 1-1.

Then, inspired by Shahid Afridi, Pakistan took a 2-1 lead in the third ODI at Faisalabad. Afridi’s 18-ball 32 got Pakistan off to a racing start after his three for 37 helped restrict South Africa to 197. Yousuf (58 not out, 113b) and captain Shoaib Malik (42, 62b) guided the host to safety. Pakistan won by six wickets.

Earlier, it was centuries by Gibbs (102, 128b) and Abraham de Villiers (103 not out, 95 balls) and Makhaya Ntini’s strike (four for 69) that helped South Africa win the first ODI at Lahore by 45 runs and take the lead.

The scores Fifth ODI, Lahore, October 29.

South Africa 233 for nine in 50 overs (H. Gibbs 54, J. Kallis 86, J. Duminy 44, S. Akhtar four for 43, I. Anjum three for 45) bt Pakistan 219 in 46.3 overs (Younis Khan 58. Md. Yousuf 53, M. Ntini four for 61, A. Morkel four for 44). South Africa won by 14 runs.

Fourth ODI, Multan, October 26.

Pakistan 230 for nine in 50 overs (Younis Khan 82, S. Malik 45, K. Akmal 28, A. Rehman 31) lost to South Africa 233 for three in 37.4 overs (G. Smith 81, H. Gibbs 39, S. Pollock 90). South Africa won by seven wickets.

Third ODI, Faisalabad, October 23.

South Africa 197 in 49.2 overs (G. Smith 48, J. Kemp 42, S. Afridi three for 37, I. Anjum three for 33) lost to Pakistan 202 for four in 48.1 overs (S. Afridi 32, Md. Yousuf 58 not out, S. Malik 42, Misbah-ul-Haq 29 not out). Pakistan won by six wickets.

Second ODI, Lahore, October 20.

Pakistan 265 for nine in 50 overs (Younis Khan 32, Md. Yousuf 117, S. Malik 56) bt South Africa 240 in 49.3 overs (G. Smith 65, A. De Villiers 35, S. Pollock 37, A. Morkel 31, U. Gul three for 59, I. Anjum three for 43). Pakistan won by 25 runs.

First ODI, Lahore, October 18.

South Africa 294 for five in 50 overs (H. Gibbs 102, G. Smith 34, A. De Villiers 103 not out) bt Pakistan 249 in 46.3 overs (Md. Yousuf 53, K. Akmal 35, S. Afridi 47, S. Tanvir 26, M. Ntini four for 69). South Africa won by 45 runs.