Cape Town - Shaun Pollock’s nature generally tends more toward merry minstrel than stern headmasterly.
But the SuperSport commentator, former national captain and leading all-time wicket-taker for the country in Tests was unusually grim-faced and direct as he lamented the Proteas’ dangerous surrender of a once-promising position on day two of the third Test against England at the Wanderers on Friday.
By the early close, dictated by darkening clouds at the Bullring, the tourists had instead moved into a position - 75 runs in first-knock arrears with five wickets in hand - where a lead looked a strong prospect for the side already 1-0 up in the four-match series.
Things had started rosily enough for the host nation as their tail-enders guided them comfortably enough past the mentally pleasing 300-mark on a brisk and bouncy surface, and then England lost all of Messrs Hales, Cook, Compton and Taylor before even reaching three figures in reply.
But in what may yet prove a pivotal period in the summer’s hostilities for the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy, unbeaten century-maker Joe Root and that constantly effervescent all-rounder Ben Stokes turned things around almost in the blink of an eye.
The pair took advantage of some increasingly ragged and eccentric bowling lines by the unsubtle, all-pace South African attack to wallop 111 runs in some 16 overs of almost ODI-like intensity and sometimes brutality.
It was a nasty comeuppance for a rookie-dominated quartet featuring debutant Hardus Viljoen, who must have initially thought the game at this level was easy when he strangled England captain Alastair Cook down the leg side with his very first delivery.
In line with the way the entire unit (with the exception, perhaps, of level-headed and persevering Kagiso Rabada) withered as the day progressed, the hefty tearaway saw his figures gradually worsen before he succumbed to what appeared like cramp and left the arena for treatment shortly before the weather ended play.
As I suggested might become a concern, given the similarity of the home bowlers in their preference for banging the ball in, a patient, “controlling” element proved sadly absent among them as South Africa leaked boundaries all too regularly and travelled at a collective 4.51 runs to the over.
Pollock, a famous pressure-builder and put-it-on-a-tickey customer in his heyday, let rip verbally as he summed up day two.
“There’s more than enough happening on that pitch ... I’d have loved to have bowled on it,” he said.
“At 90-odd for four, I thought we had ‘em.
“But (then) we lost the plot. I was disappointed; there were just too many freebies out there.”
He was not slow to praise the quality of the Root-Stokes turnaround act, but also wasn’t finished with his near-diatribe against his compatriots: “We got too frantic in our approach and (as Stokes re-established his attacking mojo after seeing off an early snorter or two - Sport24) it seemed a hangover from what we experienced in Cape Town.
“We let him get away too fast and the horse had bolted ... our (bowling areas) were just too scattergun to Stokes.
“When you keep the run rate under three you are making your yards in a match.”
In short, South Africa glaringly failed to make those “yards” Pollock spoke of.
There is some pressure on them to mend their charitable ways in a hurry on Saturday.
Will AB de Villiers and the rest of the team’s leadership personnel have been as frank in the dressing room as Pollock was in the television studio?
We should be able to tell pretty soon after the earlier, 10:00 start to the key middle day ...
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