If South Africa's on-field performance in the first part of the World Cup is not disappointing enough, there are some unfortunate off-field issues that are also casting a shadow over the team. Comments by players like Herschelle Gibbs and Allan Donald about Hansie Cronje were not engineered to split the team, but they are having an impact on Shaun Pollock and his men.
The captain went on record stating that the team has put those remarks behind it, and are moving ahead. These are difficult times for Shaun Pollock because he was supposed to have been a stand-out player for the hosts in the tournament. That has not been the case so far, and the burden of expectations, as well as the responsibilities of leadership are affecting Pollock the bowler. He has been under a microscope, and such attention and scrutiny can be trying at times. The result is that Pollock has lost the sparkle and zip that made him an effective wicket-taking bowler. This time round, he has been adequate rather than probing, with Makhaya Ntini at the other end being more dangerous in the three games South Africa have played so far.
Ricky Ponting has said that Pollock's captaincy has been extremely predictable. I would have to agree with the Australian captain, because teams have begun to anticipate Pollock's moves. They know when Pollock will bring himself and Ntini on, wait for them to finish their spells, and then go after the off-colour back-up bowlers. All the planning seems to be done beforehand, and when things don't go according to the game plan, Pollock takes an over or two more than he should to try something else.
South Africa have been offered another lifeline by the rained-out Bangladesh-West Indies game. Pollock should now go out and focus on the job of winning the remainder of South Africa's games by impressive margins. It's no point speculating about who should beat whom and what should be done to make the Super Six. It's important that the hosts do their part of the job well before waiting for the external factors to fall in place.
Tomorrow's game against Bangladesh is important because it will give us a hint on the team management's decision on Donald. What Pollock and his coach have to decide is whether or not Donald still is a part of their larger strategy of winning the World Cup. If they feel he is, he must play against Bangladesh so that he can begin to rebuild his confidence. If they feel that he cannot contribute to that dream, it's time to move on without him. They will have to pay tribute to the great fast bowler and move on. Donald will then have to move into the pages of South African sporting folklore.
In the other group, a very interesting encounter between England and Pakistan is scheduled at Newlands, Saturday. I would tend to think that Pakistan will prevail, because they have a bowling attack that could make a difference. The England attack on the other hand is a little flat, mainly because Andy Caddick does not seem to relish leading the bowling. He was a wonderful lieutenant to Darren Gough, who was so important to England for his ability to reverse the ball as well as to gee up the side.
The Pakistanis are a dangerous side and you can never count them out of a game, because they are an unbeatable side on their day.
I also have some concerns about whether Nasser Hussain and his men have been able to leave the Zimbabwe forfeiture behind them. One would have to feel for the England team, since matters should not have come to a head. It was unfortunate to see players having to tread on political ground, and the whole matter could have been resolved months ago. I'm afraid Ali Bacher will have to take some responsibility for the unfortunate turn of events. It would have been better for all parties concerned if the authorities had been sensible and scheduled that one game in South Africa.
All the teams and their supporters have one eye on the weather after what happened to West Indies in their game against Bangladesh. I don't see weather being a factor either at Bloemfontein or at Newlands, though at this time in South Africa you can never completely rule out a thunderstorm. The same holds true for India's next venue, Pietermaritzburg. I have played a lot of my cricket out there, and while a persistent nagging rain is rare, thunderstorms that completely rule out a game are always a likelihood. The Indians would like to win the toss bowl Namibia out, and knock off the target ASAP so that they can go home with the four points in their kitty. That would be the best strategy in the face of inclement conditions.