A legend in his own right

If the Pollock of early days hit the helmet on a regular basis, the later edition consumed batsmen with control and movement. With the willow, he was always a clean and effortless striker of the ball, writes S. Dinakar.

Shaun Pollock departed from the Test arena in a blaze of glory in front of home crowd in Durban. He deserved a farewell of this kind.

The man who made the transition from a tearaway to a cerebral bowler has his place in the pantheon of pace bowling greats. And he could bat. If the Pollock of early days hit the helmet on a regular basis, the later edition consumed batsmen with contro l and movement. With the willow, he was always a clean and effortless striker of the ball.

He also played his cricket with great charm and grace. Shaun, 34, added to the legacy of his father Peter Pollock, an exceptional fast bowler, and uncle Graeme, among the greatest left-handers the game has seen.

His has been a career of miles and milestones. In the first phase of his career, Pollock formed a destructive pace combination with Allan Donald. Then, when the great Donold drifted into sunset, he bore the mantle of South Africa’s No. 1 paceman effortlessly. In the process, he teamed up with Makhaya Ntini.

As he journeyed along, he lost pace but not effectiveness. Along with Australia’s Glenn McGrath, he was the finest line and length paceman in international cricket.

Pollock was also, arguably, the straightest paceman in contemporary cricket. He moved the ball either away from the right hander or into him from a straight line around the off-stump. In other words, he created doubts in the minds of the batsmen before prising them out.

The South African made the batsmen play almost every delivery and forced them to make the decision about which way the ball would deviate off the pitch. Pollock got a majority of his men caught in the cordon or won a leg-before decisions against them.

He was a clever bowler, used the crease and varied his pace. There were also subtle variations in length. He could out-think the batsmen, set them up. Much was made of Pollock’s drop in pace — he was also omitted from the Test eleven in the final stages of his career — but many forgot that his stifling accuracy created the pressure, made it easier for the rest.

He probed the batsmen relentlessly, asked them searching questions about their technique. He could retain his intensity over long spells. Pollock also had the ability to read situations and adapt like most great cricketers do.

Given his ability, Pollock was an under-achiever with the willow. Calm and collected, he could turn matches around with pleasing strokes under pressure. His booming drives and pulls could dent a paceman’s analysis. However, Pollock was not always comfortable against quality spin.

South Africa in its pomp had a host of all-rounders — Kallis, Pollock, Klusener, McMillan and Boje. Now, only Kallis remains. Despite his batting prowess, Pollock was a bowler at heart. While he added depth to the South African batting, he seemed happier running in and scalping batsmen. To him goes the credit of leading South Africa in the difficult days after the match-fixing scandal broke out in 2000. He took over the captaincy from Hansie Cronje and handled the responsibility in an accomplished manner. Under him, South Africa rallied.

His tenure, however, ended on a tearful night in Durban when South Africa got the Duckworth and Lewis calculation wrong in a critical match against Sri Lanka in the 2003 World Cup.

Pollock continued to excel under Graeme Smith even as Ntini grew in stature and someone as promising as Dale Steyn burst into the scene. He will not be easy to replace.