Cricket: They are the finest, but they are not invincible

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IN THE middle of last week, or two days after the First Test between England and South Africa, the latest PwC Test Cricket Ratings were issued. They showed that Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald were at numbers one and two, the best two bowlers in the world and, therefore, the best partnership. Well, you don't say.

England had just discovered the potency of this menacing combination and most of the reasons behind their chart-topping prowess. They took 19 wickets in the match at Johannesburg, a solitary wicket by Paul Adams preventing them becoming only the sixth pair in the history of Tests to share all 20 wickets.

Donald, perhaps surprisingly considering his longevity and his extreme speed, is in second place. He is a truly great bowler who deserves to reach the landmark he has set for himself of 300 Test wickets (though preferably not in this series). He has been one of the outstanding bowlers of the Nineties. His pace is allied to swing. The game plan seems fundamentally simple enough, a couple of bouncers followed by a searing inswinger of full length.

There is always the chance that he will bowl something loose at you and he has the odd indifferent spell but when he finds his rhythm he is a sight to behold and a handful to deal with. In those periods, as he has confirmed so often and as he exhibited again on the third evening against England, he takes his wickets in clutches.

He had me caught behind. With my old pal hindsight guiding me, it was clear that I made an error of judgement. I was trying to force the ball on the off side, hit it for four to settle me. My front foot was on the line of off stump, the ball was outside. This was partly because you have to be wary of the inswinger. Perhaps, ultimately, he did me for pace.

Judgement awry then, but Donald was in his pomp and Alec Stewart had said to me as I came out to join him: "Play the way you can, play the way you play." Pollock is a different bowler. He is not as fast, which does not mean he is slow. He bowls at you, determined to give you nothing to hit, he lands it on the seam unerringly and moves it both ways, and if he does not deal in bouncers with quite such alacrity as his partner, his high action enables him to get plenty of bounce.

Together, then, they are formidable and much of what is written above may make them sound invincible. They are not. No bowlers are, and how we as a team see them off in the next few weeks is crucial to the outcome of this campaign.

There is no point at all in my saying here that England will win the next match and the series. We have to concentrate first on battling in every session, in keeping pace with the opposition. South Africa are the better side. We have been constantly told that, we probably know it and we have just suffered a big, big reversal. But that does not mean that we cannot go on to compete and to win. Which, by the way, is not a forecast.

This is a new England side. It has experience but three of the team in Johannesburg were playing for the first time. There was a mood for change but that never meant it would be rewarded straight away. England were outplayed by a better side but there were some good things in there, and there are some more to come.

As I indicated here last week you wait all your life to play in a Test match, you practise for all your worth but nothing can prepare you for the intensity of it. I spoke to Peter Moores, the Sussex coach, a couple of days ago and said that no game would ever be the same again. Test cricket is a draining experience.

The England hotel was only 10 minutes' drive from the ground but at the end of the day players would be limp, falling asleep. It is a shattering thing.

The spirit in this squad is astonishingly high considering the nature of the defeat. We cling on to our belief and our sense of humour. This isn't going to be easy, but the television promotional film for the series shows clip after clip of the last one between these two sides.

England were behind in that, too, but we won it and we remind ourselves of that every time the telly comes on. Donald and Pollock were playing then, too.

How we play them from now on is probably the key to all this. There is no point in making too much of getting the worst end of a dodgy pitch. They bowled well on it. There is much to reflect on, and much to look forward to.