Graeme Pollock was voted South Africa’s Cricketer of the Century in 2000, and no one who saw him play would dispute the honour. A left-handed batsman who struck the ball with the sweetest timing and made the game look easy, Pollock is the most successful left-hander in test history, with an average second only to the legendary Sir Donald Bradman.
Pollock was just 19 years old when he made his test debut, facing Australia in Brisbane. He made 25 runs. In the next test he made only 16 and two, but in the third match of the series he made an early mark on the game.
Playing in Sydney, Pollock made 122 in South Africa’s first innings, a knock of such quality that Sir Donald Bradman suggested: “Next time you decide to play like that, send me a telegram.” Pollock made a further 42 runs in the second innings.
SA third-wicket record
In Adelaide, he and Eddie Barlow shared a South African third-wicket record partnership of 341, with Pollock hitting 175 and Barlow 201. South Africa won the test by 10 wickets to even the series.
In the final test at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Pollock made 17. Not yet out of his teens, he had finished the series with 399 runs to his name at an average of 57. That was but a sign of things to come.
Pollock missed two of three four-day tests against New Zealand immediately after the Australian tour, but returned for the third test to score 30 and 23.
Next up for the young star was a five-test series against England in South Africa, and he started slowly with scores of five, nought and 12 before he finally found some form to make 55. From that point on, things improved markedly as Pollock scored three fifties and a century in his next six innings. Again he finished with a series average of just over 57.
SA in England
The Springboks next headed for England for a three-test series, hoping to avenge the one-nil series loss they had suffered at home. The first test was drawn as Pollock scored 56 and five, but the next game belonged to the Pollock brothers.
Graeme scored 125 out of the 269 that South Africa totalled in their first innings. Such was the quality of his contribution that famed cricket writer EW Swanton wrote:
“An innings was played here today by Graeme Pollock which in point of style and power, of ease and beauty of execution, is fit to rank with anything in the annals of the game.” Such was the left-hander’s dominance that when he was dismissed the total stood on just 162!
England managed 240 in reply to South Africa’s effort as the older Pollock, Peter, captured 5 for 53. Graeme then tallied 59 in the Springboks’ second innings of 289, leaving the English requiring 319 for victory.
They didn’t come close as Peter Pollock once again ripped through their ranks, claiming 5 for 34 to finish with match figures of 10 for 87, as South Africa took the win that would seal a series triumph. Graeme also contributed to the bowling effort, sending down five overs of leg spin, conceding only four runs and removing England captain MJK Smith for 24.
In the drawn third test Graeme Pollock scored 12 and 32, falling to a run out in his second innings. The cricketer’s Bible, Wisden, voted him one of their five Cricketers of the Year in 1966.
The South Africans next faced Australia in 1966/67 in a five-match test series at home. Pollock’s contribution was once again substantial. In the first test, which South Africa won by 233 runs, he failed in the first innings, making only five, but his second visit to the crease netted him 90 runs.
The Australians levelled the series in the second test despite a magnificent performance from Pollock. He made 209 out of a South African total of 353, but trailing by 189 runs on the first innings proved too big a deficit to overcome and the tourists won by six wickets, Pollock making only four in his second knock.
Playing in Durban, the Springboks took a two-one series lead thanks to an eight-wicket victory in which the star left-hander contributed two and an undefeated 67. Rain saved the Australians from defeat in the fourth test during which Pollock made 22, but in the fifth test at his home ground of St George’s Park he helped South Africa to a three-one series triumph with innings of 105 and 33 not out. His average for the series was 76.71.
Sadly, Pollock was to play only one more test series before a ban on South Africa ended his international career, but in that series he played for a team that many regard as the best South African team of all time. They crushed Australia four-nil with the margin of victory increasing from test to test.
This was not a bad Australian side. They had, in fact, just beaten India in India, taking the five-match series three-one. The previous season they had beaten a West Indies team that included Gary Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd, Charlie Griffith, Wes Hall and Lance Gibbs three-one in a five-test series. However, they were no match for the Springboks.
South Africa won the first test, played in Cape Town, by 170 runs. Pollock made 49 and 50. In the second test in Durban, he and Barry Richards absolutely slaughtered the Australian bowling attack as South Africa totalled 622 for 9 declared in their first innings. Pollock’s contribution was a then South African record of 274, while Richards made 140. Australia had no answers to the challenge and went down by an innings and 129 runs.
Pollock scored 52 and 87 in the third test as South Africa cruised to a 307-run win. In the fourth test, a 323-run victory, he managed only one and four at his home ground in Port Elizabeth. Without the failures of his final test, his average would have been 64.26; as it was it finished at 60.97.
Considering that Pollock was just 26 years of age when his test career was brought to a premature end, it is reasonable to suggest that he would have improved his average. What he could have achieved is a matter of speculation, but there must have been many bowlers that sighed with relief that they did not have to test themselves against the great left-hander.
Pollock retired from the first-class game in the 1986/87 season at the age of 43. His career had begun 26 years earlier. He made 20 940 runs, including 64 centuries and 99 fifties – his conversion rate from fifties to hundreds an indication of his genius. He averaged 54.67.
Limited overs matches were introduced some time after his career began, and he played only 112 innings in the shorter form of the game. Nonetheless, he tallied 4 656 runs at an average of over 50.
So much more than the statistics
The statistics are impressive, but Pollock was so much more than the statistics indicate. He dominated bowlers, stroking the ball with such power that cover fielders would often only turn around once a cracking drive that had sped past them was five metres from the boundary.
He made the game look simple and stunning at the same time. He was comfortable against any type of bowling and could bat on any surface. He was arguably the greatest left-handed batsman the world has yet seen.
In February 2009, the genius of Pollock was recognised when he was inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame as one of the first 55 players to be honoured.
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