Graeme Pollock: The great South African left-hander


During the first phase of his career, Greame Pollock had some problems in getting the ball away to the leg side. In spite of this limitation, he scored 122 in his very third Test at the age of 19. That was at Sydney, against an attack that boasted Graham McKenzie and Richie Benaud. Among the spectators there was one Don Bradman, who turned an instant admirer. The great man congratulated the teenager saying, “Next time you decide to play like that send me a telegram.”

We do not know how many telegrams The Don received from the young man, but there were numerous occasions when he did decide to play like that.

If we take a 1500-run cut off, Greame Pollock, with 2256 runs at 60.97, finished just behind Bradman in terms of batting average of cricketers with completed careers. (At the time of writing Steve Smith boasts 6199 runs at 61.37) Ali Bacher, his final Test captain, used to say: “One thing that was absolutely certain about Graeme. If you bowled a bad ball to him, it went for four.” Many good balls also met with a similar fate.

Standing upright at his full six feet two, Pollock used his reach to perfection. The long right leg would go down to the pitch of the ball, and the heavy bat would come down on it — sending it screaming through the off-side. If it was a wee bit short of good length, his excellent balance would help him transfer the weight onto his back foot and cut it away through point.

In his final series he scored 517 at 73.85 including 274 at Durban, before the apartheid-linked isolation cruelly cut short what should have been a magnificent career. Yet, Pollock never nursed a grudge, agreeing almost always that the ban was for a greater cause. In 1971, along with brother Peter, a superb fast bowler, and many other South African cricketers, he took part in a protest against the apartheid policy organised by Barry Richards and Mike Procter. It was staged during a match to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the formation of the Republic of South Africa. The players of both the teams walked off after one ball.

Pollock went on to play 16 unofficial ‘Tests’ against rebel teams from England, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Australia. In these matches, played with every ingredient of serious Tests but for official sanction and limelight, he scored 1376 runs, with five centuries, at an average of 65.52.

His prodigious powers of hitting also brought him the first double hundred ever scored in List A matches. It came in 1974-75 — a stunning 222 not out for Eastern Province against Border in the Gillette Cup.

Pollock retired from cricket in 1987, at the age of 42. With his usual perfect sense of timing, he called it a day after scoring 144 against an Australian rebel team. His class was permanent, the style, technique and panache did not desert him till his final day on the field.

Graeme Pollock was born on February 27, 1944.

Text: Arunabha Sengupta
Illustration: Maha