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BIRTHDAY BOY: A tribute to the legendary Graeme Pollock

An old Australian adversary, sitting in Sydney, pens an exclusive tribute to Johannesburg-based South African legend Graeme Pollock, who turns 70 today

Graeme Pollock is the second best batsman I played against. Number one — and the best I've ever seen — is the incomparable Sir Garfield Sobers. The big difference between Sobers and Pollock — two left-handers — was the former hooked and the latter didn't.

Graeme Pollock in action against the rebel West Indies in 1983
Graeme Pollock in action against the rebel West Indies in 1983 

Boy, but couldn't Pollock play the other shots with exquisite timing and precise placement. They were the two things that stood out when Pollock batted; he didn't seem to hit the ball hard and yet it always beat the chaser to the boundary and rarely did he hit a firm shot at a fieldsman.

Oh, I forgot, there was a third thing; he nearly always took a single off the sixth ball of the over. In 1970 we played against Eastern Province and the opener Simon Bezuidenhout was playing well when the second wicket fell. As the celebrating Australians walked past Bezuidenhout he muttered, "the athletics match starts now."

The opener was right; he did a lot of running with the advent of Pollock. In that same game, Pollock played the highly talented Australian off-spinner Ashley Mallett steadily for a few overs. Suddenly, he hit the first five balls of Mallett's next over to the boundary and then pushed a single off the sixth.

Mallett did nothing different in that over; it was as if Pollock had sized him up and then decided it was time to attack. I played two Test series against 'GP', 1966-67 and 1969-70 and an international series in Australia in 1971-72 when he represented the Rest of the World. We got off light in the last of those encounters; he didn't make a double century.

In the first series he was off the field for virtually all of Australia's innings at Newlands. Apparently he had a hamstring strain but it might as well have been a light head cold. He batted in his usual spot at number four and scored a scintillating 209, despite South Africa being forced to follow-on.

Proteas legend during the Port Elizabeth ODI between SA  vs Pak last year. Pics/Getty Images
Proteas legend during the Port Elizabeth ODI between SA vs Pak last year. Pics/Getty Images 

Whoever said; "First there is God and then there's (Sourav) Ganguly," when referring to off-side stroke play, obviously didn't see Pollock. He was the equal of Ganguly through the off-side.

His stance was slightly crouched for a tall man, with his feet spread wide apart and just as the fast bowler delivered, his front foot edged slightly forward. From there he played whatever shot the delivery dictated or, once he was set, whichever shot he chose. He might not have moved his feet much but he was always balanced when he played a shot.

In 1970, the elegant opener Barry Richards nearly scored a Test century before lunch on his home ground at Kingsmead. A wicket fell at the other end on the second ball of the last over before the break and after lunch, Pollock strode to the wicket with Richards.

Pollock hit three of the remaining four balls from Alan Connolly to the boundary, then crossed his legs and leant on the handle of his bat. As I walked to slip at the other end, I said to Keith Stackpole; "We've got a problem." He asked; "What do you mean?"

"This bloke (Pollock)," I replied, "is going to see how many Richards makes and then he's going to double it." I was wrong. Richards made 140 and Pollock was dismissed for only 274. That day Pollock set out to show the fans at Kingsmead there was a batsman other than Richards who could really play.

Pollock at 19...
Pollock could really play and from a young age. At the Adelaide Oval Test in 1963-64 I was watching as a 21-old Sheffield Shield cricketer. A 19-year-old South Africa left-hander, just a few months younger than me, strode to the wicket at number four and proceed to dismantle a strong Australian attack in amassing 175 runs.

He hit two memorable sixes that easily cleared both the pickets and the outer fence, before racing off down the road headed towards the River Torrens. I walked away from the ground that night inspired by what I'd seen achieved by a young batsman against Test match bowling.

I look back fondly on those contests against Pollock and these days his batting is an enjoyable memory rather than a painful fielding exercise. Graeme has just turned 70 and yet I still remember those three particular innings vividly; happy birthday 'GP'.

> Pollock didn't seem to hit the ball hard and yet it always beat the chaser to the boundary
> Australia got off lightly in the last of those encounters (vs Rest); Pollock didn't make a double century
> He might not have moved his feet much but he was always balanced when he played a shot

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