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Shaun Pollock is among South Africa's greatest cricketers ever
by Partab Ramchand
Feb 08, 2008
By Partab Ramchand - Dreamcricket Special Columnist

He was gracious and non-controversial. There were no tantrums or abusive words from him; he let the bat and ball do the talking for him. Yes, Shaun Pollock’s all round skills were second to none as the remarkable statistics associated with his career will testify. Figures do not always tell the story but in Pollock’s case they certainly convey his ubiquitous qualities in both forms of the game.

Let’s consider the one day record first. With a stupendous double of 3519 runs and 393 wickets from 303 ODIs Pollock was only the second player after Wasim Akram to complete the double of 3500 runs and 350 wickets in the limited-over version. He is by far the leading wicket taker for South Africa and fourth on the all time list with only Akram, Muthiah Muralitharan and Waqar Younis ahead of him. During his last series against West Indies Pollock became the first South African to play 300 ODIs a tribute to his multi faceted skills and almost fanatical levels of fitness.

Even when Pollock was a young tearaway he was pretty niggardly and late in his career when he lost a few yards of pace he became even more miserly. With an astounding economy-rate of 3.67, Pollock is one of the most parsimonious bowlers among the leading wicket-takers in ODIs. It is no surprise that the most economical analysis in South African ODI history – 10-4-9-1 against Pakistan at Rawalpindi in 2004 – stands in Pollock’s name. The figures are enhanced when one recalls that he also scored in excess of 3500 runs at an average of 26.45 but even more importantly at a highly impressive strike rate of 86.69.

If anything Pollock’s contribution to South Africa’s success in Test cricket matched his feats in the shorter version of the game. Again it is the mind boggling figures that underline his consistent value to the side over a dozen years. In 108 matches he scored 3781 runs at an average of 32.31 with two hundreds and 16 half centuries though there was always the feeling that he under performed with the bat. Perhaps that was because of his immense contribution with the ball and his 421 wickets were obtained at just over 23 apiece and at an astounding economy rate of 2.39 again well below the average of most leading wicket takers. That he is South Africa’s highest wicket taker in both forms of the game underlines his skill and value to the side.

However entertaining, enterprising and effective he was as a batsman Pollock will be remembered most fondly for his bowling. His greatest forte was his accuracy. He was from the ``you miss I hit’’ school. A line and length seamer who always made the ball do something he was perhaps the straightest bowler in world cricket during his time. Like Glenn McGrath he too was a master in pitching the ball in the corridor of uncertainty. Besides being difficult to get away for runs he was also able to move the ball both ways at a lively pace and he also possessed stamina and courage as he proved at Adelaide in 1998 when he toiled on hour after hour in blazing heat to finish with innings figures of seven for 87 in 41 overs on a perfect pitch and against a formidable batting line up.

First with Allan Donald and then with a younger brigade Pollock made life difficult for the best of batsmen. And when the younger brigade came of age Pollock by now an elder statesman and a former captain chivalrously allowed them to take centre stage but continued his harassment of batsmen even when coming on as first change or bowling with the old ball. His bowling tested the batsmen’s faculties to the full and what he lost in speed, he gained in skill. Even on a flat track he was unhittable while on a wicket even slightly helpful he remained the batsman’s nightmare. Till his last days he remained the South African bowler opposition batsmen looked to see off before dealing with the less thrifty stuff and at the age of 33 he was still good enough to take the man of the series awards in both the Tests and the ODIs against India in 2006-07. For good measure he again bagged the man of the series award in the ODIs against Pakistan a couple of months later.

As a batsman despite his impressive record there was always the feeling that Pollock was an underachiever. Still he remains one of only two all rounders – Kapil Dev being the other – to take over 400 wickets and score over 3500 runs in Tests – a record that marks him out as one of the great all rounders in the history of the game. Only two hundreds in Tests and just one in ODIs would appear to be a bit of a disappointment but Pollock was a clean striker of the ball, clearing the straight field with a free flowing lofted drive. His jaunty hitting late in the order was a bowler’s worst nightmare and quite often his breezy knocks were instrumental in turning the match around and winning them for South Africa.

Pollock’s departure can only make cricket that much poorer. Australians always take pride in saying that they play the game hard but fair but as is well known they exceed the limits of acceptable behaviour. If they wanted a role model they could have found one in Pollock. He played the game hard and fair and well within the parameters of acceptable behaviour. He was one cricketer who kept his emotions under check and preferred to concentrate on his all round ability that played a notable role in South Africa’s numerous success stories in the period 1995-2008.

Of course given his pedigree it would have been a major surprise if Pollock had not been an outstanding cricketer. Peter Pollock is his father and Graeme Pollock his paternal uncle. With that sort of cricket flowing in his genes it was always on the cards that Shaun would not be an ordinary cricketer. In the ultimate analysis it can be said that he exceeded the highest of expectations going by his outstanding all round exploits in both forms of the game.

It was Pollock who succeeded Hansie Cronje as captain in 2000 in the wake of the match fixing scandal. He had an eventful three-year stint marked by ups and downs before losing the job after being blamed for South Africa’s unexpected exit at the preliminary stage from the 2003 World Cup. But Pollock’s chief claim to fame lies in his awesome record as an all rounder – something that automatically makes him one of South Africa’s greatest cricketers ever.

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