Shaun Pollock, after a 12-year international career, retired at the top, hitting the winning runs for South Africa in his final one-day international match against the West Indies on 3 February 2008, in a fitting end to the career of one of cricket’s greats.
He finished his career as the emphatic number one in both the bowling and all-rounder rankings for one-day cricket.
It is said that it is not what one says, but the manner in which one says things that matters. In Pollock’s case, his career was not only about what he said, but what he did, and especially about the manner in which he did those things. He established numerous records with a humility that earned him the respect of teammates, opponents and fans all around the world.
Respect and appreciation
During his final go-round, a five-match ODI series against the West Indies, Pollock – affectionately known as “Polly” to his many fans – was treated to one heartfelt salute after another at each ground as South African cricket supporters paid tribute to him in a spontaneous outpouring of respect and appreciation.
It was an emotional and deserving farewell to a fine cricketer who played the game according to its best traditions.
When the series against the West Indies ended, Pollock once again stood head and shoulders above anyone as the most effective bowler on either side. He claimed six wickets at 21.83, with a miserly economy rate of 2.78 runs per over – close to a run per over better than his nearest challenger.
No one could deny that he was going out on top.
When Pollock announced his decision to retire on 3 January 2008, it was followed shortly afterwards by Australian great Adam Gilchrist deciding to call it quits. In a clear reflection of the respect in which Pollock was held, Gilchrist phoned the South African star to congratulate him on a brilliant career.
‘An outstanding cricketer and person’
Clive Lloyd, the former captain of so many great West Indian teams of the past, paid tribute to Pollock in a television interview, describing him as “an outstanding cricketer and person”.
“He has given great service to South African cricket and world cricket,” said Lloyd, himself one of the most respected men in the game. “He is a true professional and has been a role model for cricketers and sportsmen around the world.”
“He’s an icon, he’s up there with South Africa’s greatest cricketers,” Proteas captain Graeme Smith told a media conference after Pollock helped SA to victory in his final test on his home ground, Kingsmead.
The praise from great cricketers past and present was unanimous, but the adulation of South Africa’s cricket fans during Pollock’s final ODI series spoke more forcefully of the impact the ginger-haired all-rounder had during his career.
Cricket is very much a game about statistics, and they certainly reveal the brilliance that Pollock maintained for so long.
Light years ahead
At the end of the one-day series against the West Indians, Pollock was one point shy of the magical 900-point mark in the ODI bowling rankings, light years ahead of New Zealand’s Shane Bond, who ranked second with 755. South Africa’s second highest ranked bowler, Mahkaya Ntini, was in 15th place on 645 points.
Among all-rounders, he was a clear number one, reaching the 500-point barrier, which left him a full 137 points clear of second-placed Sanath Jayasuriya.
As a batsman, he occupied 37th place in the rankings, despite not getting as many opportunities as a top-order batsman would have had, and often having to come in and hit out immediately with few overs left in the innings.
In addition, he took 108 catches, the most by a South African at the time of his retirement.
Outstanding ODI career
Pollock played in 303 ODIs, more than any other South African. His final tally of 393 wickets at an average of 24.50 left him fourth on the all-time list, more than 100 wickets clear of his former opening bowling partner Allan Donald, who stood second among South Africans with 272 victims.
His economy rate was 3.67 runs per over, an astounding achievement in an age in which batting scores have soared at an equally astounding rate. Even in his final season, Pollock was the most economical bowler in the world at just over three-and-a-half runs per over – one of only two bowlers to concede less than four an over during the season.
He also gave up the lowest percentage of runs in boundaries, which once again emphasised his control and the challenge he posed to batsmen with every ball.
Pollock, a very clean hitter of the ball, also scored 3 519 runs at an average of 26.45, with a very healthy strike rate of 86.69 runs per 100 balls faced. Contrast that with the 61.17 runs he conceded per 100 balls bowled and he was clearly a runaway winner in those stakes.
400 test wickets
The KwaZulu-Natal all-rounder played in 108 tests and captured a South African record 421 wickets, making him one of only 10 players in history to reach the 400-wicket mark.
They came at the excellent average of 23.11, with a sensational economy rate of just 2.39 per over.
Despite having been sidelined from test cricket in his final season, as the SA selectors looked to blood younger players, Pollock ended his career ranked eighth among test bowlers.
With the bat, Pollock scored 3 781 runs at 32.31 which, believe it or not, left him seventh on the all-time list for most runs in a test career by a South African batsman.
Given an opportunity to bat higher up the order – which he was without doubt capable of doing – he could have exceeded 5 000 runs.
When he first started making his mark in cricket, Pollock already carried quite a weight upon his shoulders. His father Peter was a Springbok opening bowler from the mid-1960s to 1970, while his uncle Graeme, an awesomely talented left-hander, possesses the second-highest test batting average in history.
Despite the weight of history, Pollock embraced the challenge and, by the time he retired, his achievements had firmly reinforced his family name – Pollock – as the leading name in South African cricket.
He first came to the fore in 1995 after a superb series of performances in domestic cricket for the KwaZulu-Natal Dolphins, during which he not only took many wickets but also gained something of a reputation for hitting batsmen.
He earned his first Test cap in November 1995 against England and immediately impressed with his aggressive approach. A fearsome bouncer to England opener Mike Atherton in his debut test quickly showed he was not intimidated by the step up to international level.
After a steady series with both bat and ball, he truly made his mark in the fifth Test in Cape Town, capturing 7 for 58 in the match as South Africa won by 10 wickets to secure a one-nil series triumph.
His first one-day international also proved to be a triumph as he knocked over four Englishmen to claim the man of the match award. The standard had been set, and Pollock never failed to deliver after that.
Together with Allan Donald, he formed a fast bowling attack that was one of the best in the world and the envy of many countries. His achievements would ultimately surpass those of Donald.
His miserly bowling average spoke volumes for his superb control, and that control – along with Donald’s pace and bounce – served South Africa fantastically until Donald retired in early 2002.
Best test bowling
It was while Donald was injured that Pollock returned his best test bowling figures, in an extraordinary showing against Australia during the third test at the Adelaide Oval in January 1998. With Donald sidelined, Pollock needed to rise to the challenge of a very strong Australian team, and he did so in magnificent fashion.
Bowling a massive 41 overs, he captured 7 for 87 in the Aussies’ first innings as he dismissed Matthew Elliott, Greg Blewett, Steve and Mark Waugh, Ian Healy, Andy Bichel and Shane Warne. Another two wickets in Australia’s second innings, along with his out-of-this-world first innings haul, won him the man of the match award.
Pollock had to wait a long time to score his first test century, but when it came he completed it in style, hammering 111 off 106 deliveries as South Africa thrashed Sri Lanka by an innings and seven runs at Supersport Park in January 2001.
The very next series that South Africa played, away to the West Indies, Pollock topped the batting averages at 75.50, including an unbeaten 106 in the third test.
Pollock was forced into the captaincy of the Proteas when Hansie Cronje was dismissed from the post because of the match-fixing scandal that engulfed the game in early 2000.
Under difficult circumstances, he responded well, leading the side to victory over Australia the day after Cronje’s part in the scandal first came to light.
He subsequently led the team to a drawn test series in Sri Lanka, victory in the Singapore Challenge, and a win over world champions Australia in the limited overs Super Challenge 2000.
The South African side was understandably slightly below par early on in his captaincy, but Pollock managed to inspire the team to attain the standards that they had been setting previously.
Their limited-overs whitewash of 2000 ICC Knockout champions New Zealand, late in that same year, was evidence of this. Besides beating the Kiwis in six successive one-day internationals, Pollock also led the Proteas to a 2-0 test series triumph.
In early 2001, Pollock steered South Africa to a first when the team managed to win both the test and limited overs series against the West Indies in the Caribbean. No side in history had managed the feat before.
At the end of the year, he finally tasted defeat as a captain when a South African team ailing under political pressures was crushed 3-0 by Australia in Australia.
After the humiliating test losses, however, he achieved one of the finest feats of his captaincy, leading the Proteas to victory in the VB limited overs series by beating New Zealand 2-0 in the three-match final after Australia were eliminated in the round-robin portion of the competition.
In October 2002, Pollock played a leading role in a test series victory over Sri Lanka on home soil. He was his usual excellent self with the ball and became only the fourth man in history to be stranded on 99 not out in SA’s three-wicket win in the second test.
The biggest disappointment of his career – as he later admitted it to be – cost him the captaincy of the Proteas in 2003 when he became the scapegoat as South Africa failed to qualify for the Super Eights in the World Cup.
A miscalculation in SA’s final match meant the Proteas tied the game with Sri Lanka on the Duckworth/Lewis method and thus exited the event, just one run short of reaching the playoffs.
Pollock performed as consistently as ever. Although he didn’t get many opportunities with the bat, he picked up eight wickets at 21.50 per wicket while conceding a miserly 3.58 runs per over, but South Africa’s failure saw him axed as captain.
His status was enhanced, however, when Wisden named him one of its five players of the year for 2002/03. It was a deserved award for a player so consistently good that his brilliance was often taken for granted.
In 2003, while on a five-test tour of England, he achieved a notable milestone in the fifth test when he had Michael Vaughan caught at slip to claim his 300th test wicket.
He was, at the time, only the 19th player in history to reach the mark, and none had done it at a better average than the South African all-rounder.
In June 2004 he became the highest test wicket taker in South African history when he had Michael Papps caught for a duck in the second test against New Zealand to pass Allan Donald’s record of 330 wickets.
The following month, in Sri Lanka, his value to the Proteas was underlined in a drawn two-test series. He picked up 10 wickets in the two matches, which was matched by Nicky Boje, with the next best haul being only four wickets. Pollock’s average was 19.40. Boje’s was second best at 41.90.
A legendary all-rounder
In November 2004, on tour in India, he joined an extremely rare group comprising Richard Hadlee of New Zealand, Imran Khan of Pakistan, Ian Botham of England and Kapil Dev of India as the only players to achieve the milestone of 3 000 runs and 300 wickets in tests.
It says plenty about Pollock that those four men are regarded as giants of the game, and the best all-rounders their countries have ever produced – fair argument that Pollock is South Africa’s best ever, as well as one of the best ever.
Rahul Dravid became his 400th test victim during India’s tour of South Africa in late 2006, as Pollock joined the elite club of bowlers to have reached the 400-wicket mark.
Then, in May 2007, he showed he was far from a spent force when he was named South Africa’s cricketer of the year at the Mutual & Federal Cricketer of the Year Awards.
He was on top then, and he retired on top in February 2008 as one of the all-time greats of the game.
In May of the same year the respect in which Pollock is held was confirmed when he became a member of the MCC’s World Cricket Committee. The Committee is made up of distinguished men in the world of cricket, including many former international captains, who work to ensure the game maintains the spirit that made it great. It also examines matters such as technological advances.
In October 2008, he was named to receive National Orders in recognition of his contribution to cricket, South Africa, and the game of cricket in South Africa.
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