A rare, good-natured paceman

Goodness flows through Shaun Pollock. He could so easily have been the kind cop or the pleasant school teacher or the cheerful tourist guide.

S. DINAKAR

A scalp-hunter he surely is. Hungry for success he certainly is. Mean, he definitely is not.

Goodness flows through Shaun Pollock. He could so easily have been the kind cop or the pleasant school teacher or the cheerful tourist guide.

He happens to be a pace-bowling all-rounder and a fine one at that. Winning battles in the arena, and winning friends too. It was yet another conquest for the South African at The Oval recently, when he nailed his 300th Test victim, in only his 74th Test. This is a rather exclusive territory. West Indian Courtney Walsh leads the pack with 519 scalps, and Pollock is the 15th paceman to reach 300 Test wickets.A list that has formidable names such as Walsh, Kapil Dev, Richard Hadlee, Wasim Akram, Dennis Lillee, Malcolm Marshall, Imran Khan. Among all the speed merchants in the 300 plus category, Pollock's economy rate of 2.28 is the best.

The niggardly but dangerous Curtly Ambrose is next at 2.30. This is a remarkable feat, for the South African has a strike rate of 54.3. Pollock, without question, is a rarity.

`Keep it simple, keep it straight' is an old saying in cricket and Pollock does this better than most. He keeps zeroing in on or around the off-stump, seaming the ball away, bringing it in, straightening the odd one, his canny changes of pace keeping the batsmen guessing.

Thrusting the left pad out would be a dangerous ploy against Pollock, for the batsman, given the South African's accuracy, is likely to be hit in line. If the batsman cannot pick Pollock's seam movement, he is in trouble, because the margin for error being less. The lanky Pollock may be open-chested as he releases the ball, but his strong, upright action, and a good wrist position are strong allies as he invariably manages to hit the seam.

He has definitely slowed down now, from the time he burst into the scene in 1995-96, as a red-headed youngster of brisk pace. Years of bowling, in both forms of the game, has taken its toll.

Shan Pollock forged a formidable partnership with AlanDonald. -- Pic. BEN RADFORD/GETTY IMAGES-

These days, he operates at around 75 miles per hour, yet his control is such that he could well be having the ball on a string. He's 30 now, might no longer be menacing, but he's still effective. Proof? Pollock's six for 39 in the second innings of the Nottingham Test this English summer. That was the quintessential Pollock for you, making the ball jag around at will, and giving away very little.

Pollock's height suggests that there will always be an element of bounce for him. And the fact that he gets so close to the stumps means he's in perfect position to take the ball away from the right-hander. The South African can shift his line adeptly to the southpaws as well.

While Pollock's guile will always make him a threat, his batting is bound to gain more attention as the years progress. A clean striker of the ball, Pollock has 2688 runs at 34.90, inclusive of two hundreds and 15 half centuries; so many specialist batsmen have lesser records.

Pollock is assured in his ways against both pace and spin, is unruffled by challenging situations, and there is a hint of lazy elegance in his methods. Cricket does run in his blood.

Son of incisive paceman Peter Pollock, Shaun must have learnt the nuances from his illustrious father. But then, the left-handed legend Greame Pollock happens to his uncle. There was thus the pressure of expectations as Pollock began his eventful journey into international cricket. He did not take long to make a mark, and, in fact, his first five-wicket Test haul won a series for South Africa.

Pollock's five for 32 in the second innings of the Cape Town Test in 1995-96 snuffed out the English challenge, breaking the deadlock in the fifth Test. The `new kid on the block,' groomed by the late Malcolm Marshall at Natal, held a lot of promise.

He quickly moved up the rungs, forming a deadly pace bowling combination with spearhead Allan Donald. It was a lethal pair. Donald was lightning quick, and Pollock very sharp. Donald would make the batsmen duck and weave, and swing the ball in wickedly, Pollock would seam them around at a lively speed, seldom sending down a loose delivery, not allowing the pressure to ease. The two complemented each other wonderfully well.

With Donald and Pollock running through line-ups, South Africa enjoyed a period of heady success, with only a series victory over Australia remaining elusive.

And it was Pollock who took the Proteas desperately close to a series levelling victory in the 1997-98 Test at Adelaide, sending down 41 overs in searing heat to claim seven for 87 on the final day.

It was a heroic performance reflecting, apart from the South African's craftsmanship, his strength and stamina. But his effort went in vain as the Aussies held out for a draw. However, not before Pollock struck Mark Waugh on the helmet with a nasty short-pitched delivery. Yes, he was decidedly faster then.

There was reward for him in the decider at Faisalabad, '97, Pollock's five for 37 ambushing Pakistan, that was chasing just 146 in the fourth innings. It was, arguably, South Africa's most famous series win after return to international cricket in 1991-92. And in 2000-2001, the Indians succumbed to Pollock's clever ways at Bloemfontein. A match where Pollock registered his first 10-wicket haul in Tests.

The fact that Pollock can adapt to conditions is indicated by his record in the sub-continent — 37 wickets in 10 Tests at 18.59. His home and away record is a well balanced one too — 160 scalps in 39 Tests in South Africa and 142 in 35 on foreign soil. Apart from his stirring deeds, Pollock has conducted himself with honour and dignity on and off the field, leading South Africa through a period of great trauma and pain following the Hansie Cronje match-fixing scandal.

There were complaints though in some quarters that he was not assertive enough, and these voices of dissent grew more strident following South Africa's exit — caused by a combination of poor planning and ill luck — in the World Cup this year, on a rainy night in Durban. The tears in Pollock's eyes told their own story, as he sat shell-shocked in the dressing room.

That dark night is behind him now. Pollock is no longer the captain. However, he continues to be invaluable. The South African has a lot more gas left in the tank.