Pollock another casualty of a hazardous campaign

Shaun Pollock's sacking as South Africa's captain is the latest in a growing line of players whose reputations, if not careers, have been done for by this World Cup.

DEREK PRINGLE

"I didn't resign as I felt that would be the soft option, but I accept the selectors' decision to sack me," said Shaun Pollock. — Pic. AFP-

Shaun Pollock's sacking as South Africa's captain is the latest in a growing line of players whose reputations, if not careers, have been done for by this World Cup.

For a short campaign, the amount of casualties has been astounding, and had Dr. Hans Blix discovered anything quite as malign in Iraq the troops would surely have gone in weeks ago.

Pollock is keeping some pretty impressive company. Nasser Hussain, Allan Donald, Andy Flower, Henry Olonga, Shane Warne and Jonty Rhodes have each called time on all or part of their careers as a result of this tournament.

While being in South Africa has proved hazardous for some, not being here has benefited others, with Steve Waugh announcing that his Test career, in its 17th year, is set to continue.

Pollock's departure, 12 days after the team's Duckworth-Lewis balls-up in Durban that saw them ousted from the World Cup, meant `scapegoat' was always likely to be on the menu when the South Africa selectors sat down to dinner last week.

In keeping with modern sporting mores, Pollock forced their hand by refusing to resign, but a groundswell of negative opinion had already taken hold. Unhappily for him, it was one that did not fade.

Any judgement of him has been tainted by comparisons with his predecessor, Hansie Cronje, still widely celebrated in South Africa as a hero.

It is something the new captain, 22-year old Graeme Smith, must get used to if South Africa, now shorn of Donald and Rhodes, are to be united when they arrive in England this June for five Tests and a one-day triangular series.

"I didn't resign as I felt that would be the soft option, but I accept the selectors' decision to sack me," said Pollock in Durban. "Since Hansie, there has been an effort to ensure the captain isn't given too much power.

"Shared responsibility was the approach they wanted, but that has not worked from my perspective. As captain you want full support to do what you want and to live and die by your decisions. What has been done to me as captain is not really what you want." Sporting failure is not easy to take in this masochistic country, and the bizarre logic that prefers a brooding, two-faced, Croesus-worshipping hypocrite like Cronje to a decent, shy, Christian like Pollock, can suddenly take hold. Even news that Cronje had anything up to 100 bank accounts will not sway the average person here from their tearful and rosy-eyed view of the now deceased former captain.

Cape Town seems especially fond of him, and every match held there during the championship has been accompanied by numerous bunches of flowers sporting the message "We miss you Hansie." Mind you, Cronje is not the only thing most South Africans are in denial about. AIDS and crime are also glossed over with absurd counter-claims over their extent and cause.

When truth is concealed, democracy dies — which is what Henry Olonga and Andy Flower's protest was about during Zimbabwe's opening game. It was a brave move to wear black armbands and issue their joint statement, but only Flower appears to have planned his escape route via Essex and South Australia, his new employers.

Olonga, 26, whose father is Kenyan, is now seeking asylum after receiving death threats in Zimbabwe, a country he feels is too dangerous to return to. The first black African to represent Zimbabwe, Olonga is also a talented opera singer, though tenor leads for dread-locked fast-bowlers do not appear as plentiful as those for corpulent former footballers.

While Flower's valediction was carried out on the pitch in Zimbabwe's final game against Sri Lanka in East London, Olonga was stuck with 12th man duties. Before the match word had reached him that undercover Zimbabwean policemen were in the ground to take him back to face charges of treason, the penalty for which is death.

It sounds like something from the darkest days of Papa Doc Duvalier's Tonton Macoute, but Olonga was worried enough to ask for protection from the South African police, something he may continue to need until a safe haven is found.

Steve Waugh would probably need a police escort if he had retired, so well has the Australia captain been batting for New South Wales. His decision has observed Bobby Charlton's golden rule and not been rushed. Charlton retired at the end of a long hard season with Manchester United, but said he regretted the move once he had taken a rest.

Whether Waugh was taking his time or just making the selectors sweat remains a secret, though not his desire to break Australian Test records. One more cap in the Caribbean will take him past Allan Border's record of 156 Tests. One more Test century will overtake Sir Don Bradman's tally of 29. He could upstage these two icons on the same day should the West Indies bowl badly.

Those who know Waugh reckon his eye is really on India in India, the missing piece to a glorious jigsaw, though that is 18 months away. It might be a goal too far unless he extends the form that has helped him amass more than 800 first-class runs for New South Wales, including a quite brilliant double-century against Victoria.

Had he come to the World Cup, as many in Australia felt he deserved, his desire may not have been as strong.

Copyright, Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2003