Pollock hits milestone as England face long haul

Dismissal of Vaughan brings paceman his 300th Test wicket and leaves other batsmen with mountain to climb

Angus Fraser
Saturday 28 September 2013 05:34

There was nothing special about the delivery. It was pretty similar to the vast majority of the previous 16,166 Shaun Pollock had bowled in his Test career. It pitched on a good length and moved away from the batsman. However, what happened next on the second day of the fifth Test is something the 30 year-old will never forget.

In years to come Michael Vaughan will look back on it and afford himself a smile but as the ball struck the edge of his bat and flew to third slip its importance to Pollock would have meant nothing to England's captain. As it travelled through the air Vaughan was not the only person at a packed Oval who thought that with it went England's slim hopes of levelling this series.

Herschelle Gibbs took the catch with ease and a look of horror came over Vaughan's face. The realisation that he no longer had any control over the fate of his side rooted him to the crease. Vaughan knew that for England to have the slightest chance of posting a score that may put South Africa under pressure over the weekend, he had still to be batting today.

Pollock, meanwhile, was beside himself with joy. Any player who tells you that reaching landmarks and breaking records is unimportant is a liar. This proud South African had just become the 19th bowler in the history of the game to take 300 Test wickets.

Requiring 285 to avoid the follow-on, Vaughan started his short innings with style by crashing two glorious fours through the covers in Makhaya Ntini's first over. Marcus Trescothick, meanwhile, was playing a game of hide and seek. Aware of the Somerset opener's weakness outside off-stump, Pollock and Ntini kept bowling down this channel waiting for the left-hander to have a nibble.

Trescothick, showing great restraint, resisted the temptation until he cut the 23rd ball he faced for four. This shot, and a clip off his legs also to the boundary, appeared to get his feet working once more and by the close he had moved to 64 not out. Both Trescothick and Graham Thorpe, playing his first innings for England for over a year, have a lot to prove if they are to bat in the position they want this winter, or even make the tour, but seldom will they have a better opportunity to impress. When bad light stopped play, with four overs remaining, the pair had taken England to within 120 runs of avoiding the follow-on.

It was fitting that Pollock should reach a milestone that confirms his status as a great bowler against England because they were the team against whom he made his debut in November 1995. Graham Thorpe was his first victim and it did not take long for England to realise South Africa had unearthed a very special bowler. Even then Pollock was miserly and took each run that England's batsmen scored off his bowling as a personal insult.

In an era when fast bowlers have been portrayed as stars, the very quality of his bowling has prevented him from being seen as a glamorous cricketer. Fast-medium bowlers that do not bowl bad balls are often viewed as boring yet Pollock is one of the best. That no bowler with more than 300 Test wickets to his name has taken them cheaper - at 20.5 - highlights how well he has perfected his craft. He is the man whom England's erratic youngsters should attempt to emulate.

It was with the bat that the all-rounder first troubled England, however. After spending all of Thursday with his feet up watching his colleagues gorge themselves on an excellent Oval pitch and mediocre bowling, Pollock would not have expected to be batting before 11.30 on the second day. Against a rejuvenated England bowling attack, kick-started by a brace of early wickets from Martin Bicknell, South Africa unexpectedly found themselves on the back foot.

After losing Jacques Rudolph, who has had a disappointing first tour of England, to the fifth ball of the day South Africa did not seem to know what to do. The confident stroke-play which had allowed them to dominate the first day disappeared. Credit for this should go to the bowlers, who dried the runs up before striking, but one felt the tourists played into England's hands.

By allowing the bowlers to settle, their confidence returned and the ball started to pitch in the right area. England were helped by a certain amount of good fortune. Mark Boucher was given out caught behind to a ball he failed to touch, and Jacques Kallis fell in the most unfortunate of ways when a straight drive from Pollock flicked Ashley Giles' right hand and ricocheted onto the stumps with the batsman out of his ground.

Andrew Flintoff trapped Andrew Hall in front before he had the chance to reproduce his heroics of Headingley and then on the stroke of lunch Paul Adams ran himself out searching for an ill-advised second run. With the visitors on 432 for 9 it could hardly be said that England were in charge but in 38 overs of cricket Vaughan's side had taken seven wickets for just 87 runs.

It was then that Pollock, with a little help from Ntini, ensured South Africa did not fall far short of the first-innings total they wanted. Together the pair added 52 and frustrated Vaughan's tired bowlers for a further 49 minutes.

When James Anderson eventually ended their partnership England knew that history was against them. Only twice in 810 Tests have England won when their opponents have scored more than 450 in their first innings.

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