Cricket: Face to face, pace meets pace

Dazzler v Destroyer: England rely on man of spirit and speed as tourists look to an uncompromising talent
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The Independent Online
Graeme Wright

fears the devastating

Shaun Pollock is still

sharpening his skills

THE scorecard at Edgbaston on Thursday will read "England v South Africa". Home team first. The way Shaun Pollock sees it you can forget about England having home advantage.

"I was talking about that the other day with Bob Woolmer," said the 6ft 3in South African strike bowler. "It's going to be a bit like a home game for some of us. Allan Donald's played a lot of his cricket at Edgbaston, Bob was coach there, I had a season there two years ago and Brian McMillan had a season as well [back in 1986]. There could be more Warwickshire boys in the South African side than there are in the England side." He laughs. "Yeah, it will be good to be there again. I saw the Aussies get knocked over by England there last year, and I wouldn't mind bowling on a pitch like that."

It was at Edgbaston, too, that Pollock, in his first game for Warwickshire, took four wickets in four balls against Leicestershire in the Benson and Hedges Cup, finishing the over with figures of 4-3-1-5 and the match with 6 for 21. If he couldn't live up to such a barnstorming debut it was hardly surprising, especially as he had been carrying an ankle injury since the winter's series against England.

Although a return of 42 wickets in 13 Championship games was something of a disappointment, his maiden first-class hundred against Northamptonshire and 150 not out against Glamorgan emphasised Pollock's all-round potential. Shane Warne, writing in the current issue of Wisden Cricket Monthly, reckons that Pollock is "good enough to win a Test match with either bat or ball ... He attacks with the bat and would probably score more runs if he realised how good he could be." His coach Woolmer agrees. "I've rated his batting all along. Once he starts rating himself he'll be even better."

Pollock says he is striving to be a genuine all-rounder. "But I don't think I've reached the stage where I could play as a batter alone." Even so, he was batting at No 7 against Pakistan and Sri Lanka earlier this year, hitting a Test-best 92 to go with his six wickets in the win against the Sri Lankans. And his Man of the Series awards in the one-day games against England in 1995-96 and Australia in 1996-97 owed something to the kind of batting that brought him his Texaco half- century last Sunday. Ian Botham, it is worth recalling, was batting at seven for England when he took those legendary hundreds off the Australians in 1981.

As Woolmer pointed out after the youngster's spectacular first season of international cricket - the home series against England - Pollock certainly has the genes to be an all-rounder. Having one of South Africa's leading wicket-takers for a father, and an uncle, Graeme Pollock, who was among the best batsmen of his generation, must count for something. Not that Shaun ever saw his father play. He was born three years after international politics forced Peter Pollock out of Test cricket. "My dad had retired by the time I was born. I've seen movies of him playing, but that was when they used to run in all funny."

There's nothing funny about the way the son runs in. Malcolm Marshall captained Natal when Pollock began making a name for himself, and there is more than a touch of the West Indies fast bowler in the way Pollock hits the crease running - and in the way the ball rattles the batsman's helmet at the other end. He's so close to the stumps in his delivery stride that there is nowhere for the batsman to hide when he pitches short. Mike Atherton can testify to that. He was clattered three times by Pollock's bouncer when the 22-year-old made his Test debut at Pretoria in November 1995.

Fast bowlers hunt best in pairs, and this summer we are privileged to have the master, Allan Donald, and his protege bowling in tandem. "It is sweet to see the moon rise while the sun is still mildly shining," wrote Goethe, who said something about most things but drew the line when it came to cricket.

You can be sure that "Big Al" will have little truck with that "mildly" even when his sun is apparently setting. However, should his put-upon muscles cry enough this summer, do not think that South Africa's powder will have been much dampened. Shaun Pollock's best bowling, 7 for 87 against Australia last winter, came when Donald was sidelined.

"Allan has carried the attack for South Africa for many years now and we realise there'll come a time when someone else has to shoulder the responsibility. So when Allan wasn't fit for the Adelaide Test it was time for us to come to the party. We had to lift our game," Pollock said.

Pollock did more than lift his game, though. Those figures were not earned on a green-top. They came from 41 overs of heroic endeavour in an Adelaide heatwave fuelled by a dry wind burning in across the desert - so dry that at the end of each session Pollock's shirt was devoid of sweat. "Yes," he said, smiling at the memory, "it was very hot that day. But it tends to help when you're getting the wickets. It might have been different if I wasn't."

Do not bet on it. At 24 Shaun Pollock has not yet learned the meaning of different. Ignore the fresh-faced good looks. This is one uncompromising cricketer and he is going all the way.