A game of balance

A game of balance

It boggles your mind as to where Graeme Pollock would have eventually ended up had he gone on to have a full career. In 23 Tests between December 1963 and March 1970, the tall southpaw left behind a great batting legacy. Pollock finished with an average of 60.97 which is the fourth highest behind three Australians – Don Bradman (99.94), Steven Smith (63.75) and Adam Voges (61.87). While Bradman will always be the ultimate batting specimen, Smith is still playing and it remains to be seen where and how he finishes eventually. Voges played his first Test when he was 35 and retired after 20 Tests in a career spanning from June 2015 to November 2016.

Pollock, on the other hand, was forced out of international cricket in 1970, when he was only 26, due to South Africa's apartheid policy. Acknowledged by Bradman as perhaps the finest left-handed batsman ever, Pollock accumulated 2256 runs with seven centuries and 11 half-centuries. He amassed 20,940 runs in 262 first-class games at an average of 54.67. Watching the third Test between India and South Africa from the President's Suit at the Wanderers, the 73-year-old opened up on a range of issues in a chat with DH. Excerpts:    

You were part of one of the finest teams ever in the late 1960s…

I played first-class cricket for 27 years, and I started (playing Tests) in 1963 and I was 19 when we went to Aussies. We ended up drawing the series. There was a bunch of new guys that were playing their first Test, I think we had an unexpected result in Australia. For the South African cricket, starting from 63 and till the isolation in 1970, it was the turning point when we drew the series against the Aussies.

We beat England in 1965 in England, we beat the Aussies here in 67 and then in 70. We had a quality side and we were playing a good positive cricket. The 1970 side had (Barry) Richards, (Eddie) Barlow, myself, Lee Irvine, Mike Procter, Denis Gamsy, my brother (Peter Pollock)… I mean Proccie (Procter) was batting eight and he batted for Rhodesia and Gloucestershire at four and got six 100s for Rhodesia in a row and equaled Bradman's record of getting six hundreds in a row. And he batted at eight in the South African batting line-up, so it was a formidable all-round line -up.

Many players of your era went on to play in county cricket but why did you restrict yourself to domestic cricket in South Africa?      

The weather is s**t. No 2: the Pound and the Rand were 1:1 in 1969 so you couldn't earn 17:1 for the Rand. So, financially it wasn't a good proposition. If I had a contract for 3000 Pounds, I would get 3000 Rands for that.  In 18 hours  of cricket, you cannot get a fair result without declarations. It was not enough playing time 18 hours to have four innings. County cricket was a game of declarations. I didn't like the declarations. We would bat and set targets. We would always set targets to keep the game alive. You couldn't get 40 wickets  in 18 hours,  it was impossible. I just think it was a bit of a farce for first innings if you tried to bowl someone out and you couldn't get them out, then they'll probably tell you we'll set you 280  in four hours. And the game would go on. I just think it wasn't the way the game should have been played. It wasn't an attraction.

Do you ever think you played at a wrong time and wrong place?

No, I don't. I never played full professional cricket. So, in 1970 when we were isolated, I had a settled job. Nobody knew how long we were going to be isolated. Because I was married and had kids. You never know ... You are anticipating that it'll come back earlier than you thought. And then you'll get back into it. It took just 22 years. It's the best thing that has happened to South African cricket. Something had to happen. The politics in the country was absolutely shambolic. And I think the good thing is that even after the 22 years, the standard of cricket was still reasonably good. The state of cricket survived  irrespective of the isolation.

There were rebel tours though in South Africa…

There's always a debate over the rebel tours but I think those games were needed for the game in SA. You needed some international flavour and overseas stars. There were politically and financially a lot of hassles. And after all these years, it showed that it possibly was the right thing to do. It maintained the standard of cricket. South African cricket didn't deteriorate badly because they were out of the league. They came back in 1991 and survived pretty well I would think. And since then, I think they have made some wonderful progress. A lot of guys that have been given the opportunities are taking it. Everybody has been surprised but the transformation has been needed for the country. It's just that people have contested how the transformation should work. And that's always debatable as to which route you go. A transformation was needed and the players that have come through in the last five years, have been unbelievable.

Your brother (Peter Pollock) used to make fun of your dodgy running between the wickets…

They also tell a story of when I was playing for Transvaal, the Johannesburg side. There was this guy Mandy Yachad who also played for South Africa (in one IDI against India in 1991), but he batted at No 3 for Transvaal. He was not used to hitting many boundaries but he was a quick runner between the wickets. We played in one game, and he played a ball and wanted to get three or four. I ran two and told him, 'Mandy, it's not an athletics meeting. If you can run three and I run two, you will get only two. So, conserve your energy'. These things are unnecessary. If you are not doing the basics right, you are going to have a problem. My running wasn't great, but I just believed if you run a three, you play the next ball and because having run three, your breath and breathing is a little uncontrolled. When you are facing the ball, you want to be settled and ready to do what's right. I just know batting as a job in balance, not overdoing the excitable.

Who was the toughest bowler you faced during your time?

Dennis Lillee, I would rate him as the best. I think he was a class act, he was quick, he had control and he was aggressive. Procky (Mike Procter) was a good one in the 1970s. John Snow bowled well. In fact Garry Sobers was probably the best opening bowler in world cricket in the 60s -- they had Charlie Griffith and Wes Hall but he used to open the bowling. If there were rankings in the 60s, he probably would have been ranked as the No 1 bowler in the world. He used to bowl these left-arm swinging deliveries… I mean we played in a World side, and we bowled England out for 100 and he got 6/30. He was just an incredible player.

You have been rated the finest No 4 ever, which other No 4 batsmen have impressed you over the years?

There is Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting… Greg Chappell was a good player, I played him in the 70s. England side in the 60s had Ted Dexter, Colin Cowdrey, (Ken) Barrington at three, four and five, and with (Geoff) Boycott at opening, it was a hell of a batting line-up. You didn't get those sides out twice too often. Barry Richards was a super player, Garry (Sobers), Rohan Kanhai was a very talented player. If he hadn't played at the same time as Garry, he would probably have been credited as the best player in the world.

With so much technology around, does it help a player improve or it gets complicated sometimes?

I think it can get too technical, when I was coaching the side and Hansie (Cronje) was the captain and Hansie said to me, 'I want to get back and across when the guy delivers. What do you think I should do?' I said, 'why don't you start at where you want to get when the guy delivers? Why do you have to in less than half a second make that adjustment? Why don't you get into the position you want to before he delivers?' How do you get into a decent position jumping around the crease?

So then what do you make of Steven Smith? He shuffles so much but still manages to get big runs…

It's a bit of mystery but it works for him. He does the basics right, he balances well, he watches the ball and has got sound technique otherwise. But yes, he is a bit of a mystery.  I would have a go at him with the short stuff. If you look at world cricket, there are not many good players of quick bowling. It's an art. If you are a hooker and you want to take the fast bowler on, you are going to get out more times than you're going to get runs.

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