Shaun's hour of glory

Shaun Pollock might be 33 and slower in pace, but he can still do some damage. He is also one of the cleanest strikers of the ball in the game. His success in the Test series against India highlights the importance of genuine all-rounders, writes S. Dinakar.

Shaun Pollock threw an affectionate arm around Graeme Smith. The host had snatched a remarkable series win at Newlands. The skipper was running short of words in his appreciation of his all-rounder in the post-match conference.

In the shower of praise, Pollock was almost embarrassed. He smiled at his young captain. The fragrance of a famous victory swirled around. Both men deserved their hour of glory.

Pollock's machine-like precision strangulated the Indians. His variations had enabled him to strike. He might be 33 and slower in pace, but Pollock can still do some damage. Give him the new ball and he will make early inroads with his consistent off-stump line and the ability to seam the ball both ways.

Pollock was both spot-on and destructive in the ODI series when given the new ball. He also bowled beautifully with the older Kookaburra ball in the Test matches, sending down crucial spells. The cricketer from Natal is also the straightest pace bowler in Test cricket. He makes the batsman play, thereby ensuring that every delivery of his counts.

Pollock's bowling highlights the virtues of line and length. For him control is the key. He was in charge when he forced an outside edge from Rahul Dravid with a perfect leg-cutter at the Wanderers. It was Pollock's 400th Test scalp.

The wily paceman bowled critical spells in either innings at Newlands. The manner in which he combined with Paul Harris on the fourth day showed his virtues as a pace bowler. There was a hint of reverse swing for him and he tested and probed the batsmen, giving very little away.

Pollock has this valuable ability in him to bowl in combinations, whether with Allan Donald, Makhaya Ntini and more recently, Harris. His subtle variations of pace — he can still surprise the batsmen with his speed — and the clever use of the crease to change the angle keep the batsmen guessing. He also mixes his length well. The late Malcolm Marshall of the West Indies played a major part in guiding him early in his career.

Pollock is not just a batsman. He is one of the cleanest hitters of the cricket ball. His strokes seem effortless as he sends the ball outside the park. He also picks the length of the bowlers very quickly. The expression on V. R. V. Singh's face was one of shock as Pollock pulled a short-pitched ball from him past mid-on for a boundary in Durban.

Pollock's promotion to the No. 4 slot was a masterstroke in the final Test. His success highlights the importance of genuine all-rounders. They do add depth and options to the side. They also give the team more flexibility.

The presence of someone like Pollock enabled South Africa to carry out a critical switch in the batting order on the last day. Pollock sizzled. This also reflects how much India missed an all-rounder. Irfan Pathan, sadly, has lost his way with the ball. If India possessed a genuine all-rounder, it could have fielded a second specialist spinner at Newlands. An all-rounder saves places.

Skipper Graeme Smith was at the heart of the South African resurgence. He can be an influential batsman. Smith straightened his backlift and stopped shuffling and strokes flowed from the middle of his blade. His counter-attacking knock in the first innings in Newlands inspired South Africa. Under considerable criticism for the slump in his batting form and the defeat in the Wanderers Test, Smith came through a test of fire.

He is an improving captain. The manner in which he used left-arm spinner Paul Harris in the final Test was commendable. In the past, he has been taken to task for bringing on the spinners at the wrong time.

Perhaps the most vital ingredient of South Africa's victory in the final Test was how the side got its selection right. Harris, rightly, was picked. The South African attack was no longer one-dimensional. And Dale Steyn gave the attack the cutting edge. He struck important blows with his speed and reverse swing.

The South Africans believed in their ability to win. It is never easy to fight back from 1-0 down in a three-Test series.