It’s hard to believe that Shaun Pollock is 40. Truth is he doesn’t look a day older than 29. And it’s even tougher to comprehend that he last played for South Africa in 2008. But talk to him about line, length, pace, swing and bounce, and he’ll delight you with his acumen and insight.
For instance, how different is this Indian attack from the ones that toured South Africa in the past?
“Earlier, India used to try and fight fire with fire,” he says. “They always played that one pacer who would hit the deck hard. This time, Duncan Fletcher and MS Dhoni are employing a different strategy. They are relying on their line-and-length bowlers like Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami. The idea is to be consistent and not give away too much. This plan could be just as effective,” he adds.
India’s bowlers didn’t play to their potential in Thursday’s series opener at the Wanderers, but Pollock believes any side would take time to adjust to the altitude in Johannesburg. “They will have to adjust to the swing and bounce. I guess a warm-up game would have helped,” he opines.
Pollock was always a lively bowler, but never menacingly quick like the Allan Donalds or Brett Lees. But his inability to hit the 150-kph mark didn’t affect his success rate. Averaging a shade over 20 in both forms of the game, he toyed with the best of line-ups with his tenacious approach. And if there’s anyone who can present a thesis on line and length, it’s Pollock.
“Your length varies from pitch to pitch and batsman to batsman. In South Africa, you would like to get a touch fuller early on in the innings. And later, as the ball gets older, you have got to bowl slightly back of length,” he reasons.
Talk to him about Bhuvneshwar and the seamer’s diminishing utility with the older ball and Pollock has just one advice. “You have got to help yourself. You have to learn and employ different gameplans in the middle of the innings. If you have had a bad first spell, then go and plan your second spell. Think of the right field you want to set. That’s how you learn.”
There are players who swear by the art of visualising. Sachin Tendulkar used to do that. So did Allan Donald. “I was never a great exponent of this,” Pollock admits. “But in your mind, you can see what you want to achieve. And then you execute those plans in the nets. You have got to keep on thinking,” he explains.
Bhuvneshwar, Shami and the rest have a lot of thinking to do. Playing 11 batsmen would make more sense otherwise.