This day, that batting genius!

Updated: Feb 06, 2020, 10:21 IST | Clayton Murzello | Mumbai

It's 50 years today for South African Graeme Pollock's epic 274 which sent India-conquerors Australia in a tailspin at Durban in 1970.

South African batting icon Graeme Pollock pads up for nets while representing Rest of the World against England in 1970, the very year in which he scored 274 against Australia at Durban. Pic/Getty Images
South African batting icon Graeme Pollock pads up for nets while representing Rest of the World against England in 1970, the very year in which he scored 274 against Australia at Durban. Pic/Getty Images

Clayton MurzelloWe have a problem," mid-day columnist and then Australia's vice-captain Ian Chappell said to his fellow slip fieldsman Keith Stackpole on the opening day of the Durban Test against South Africa in 1970.

Chappell was not referring to opening batsman Barry Richards, who was blazing away and very nearly got a Day One hundred before lunch; a feat then only accomplished by Australians Victor Trumper (1902), Charlie McCartney (1926) and Don Bradman (1930) in Ashes contests. Nor was Chappell sweating too much over the fact that Australia could well lose the second Test of the series after the defeat in the first Test at Newlands, Cape Town.

The batsman in question was new man and No.4 batsman Graeme Pollock who had smoked Alan Connolly for two boundaries.

Chappell went on to elaborate Australia's problem: "He's going to see how many Richards gets and then he'll double it." Chappell's prediction, as he admitted in an ESPN Cricinfo video series, was wrong because Richards smashed 140 while Pollock walked back to the pavilion 50 years ago on this day having scored an epic 274, then the highest Test score by a South African batsman.

Strokes flew from Pollock's heavy bat like a Peregrine falcon and the Australian bowlers were on a hiding to nothing. Pollock didn't admit to being hell-bent on showing the Durban crowd that there was another highly skilled batsman on the Kingsmead pitch apart from their homeboy Richards, but Chappelli certainly believed so.

He told Australian Associated Press (AAP) journalist Patrick Keane in 1994 (when the Australian Test side toured South Africa again) that he had noticed Pollock standing, "at the crease with his hand on his hip as if to say, 'There's another bloke out here who can bat a bit.'"

The Australian bowling attack comprised Graham McKenzie and Connolly, who had just led their team to a 3-1 victory in India. But they suffered from the after-effects of an arduous India tour and Pollock caned them. "McKenzie, I think, picked up a virus in India and so he was not a force in South Africa and Johnny Gleeson [mystery spinner] didn't get support. Wicketkeeper Brian Taber had a bad series, missing stumpings and catches. But we had an incredible side," Pollock stressed.

Pollock's 274 was a great innings but he told me on Tuesday that conditions favoured the batsmen and the outfield was quick. He had no hesitation in rating his 125 in Nottingham on the 1965 tour of England as the finest Test innings he played.

"The 125 [out of 269] in Nottingham was probably my best. We were 43 for 4 and then 80 for five. My contribution was quite significant," recalled Pollock, 75.

He still had to pierce the field in Durban and hit 43 fours. Pollock loved seeing the ball go past the boundary ropes and pundits reckon there was no better punisher of a bad ball than him. "If you get a bad ball, you must hit it for four...that was my strategy. It is important to control the game and put the bowlers under pressure. I was very severe on half volleys," he told me.

Pollock's 274 stayed as the highest Test score by a South African batsman until Darry Cullinan scored an unbeaten 275 against New Zealand at Auckland in 1999.

The Kingsmead gem included a rollicking 103-run stand with Richards and a meaty partnership of 200 with 'Tiger' Lance. Pollock's innings ended on the second afternoon when he hit one back to occasional leg-spinner Stackpole. He wouldn't have played that loose shot had he known that skipper Ali Bacher had no intentions to declare and he regrets not scoring a triple century in Test cricket. It also happened to be his last three-figure score in Tests in a series which the home team famously won 4-0.

South Africa were banned from Test cricket after that 1969-70 series because of their apartheid policy.

Some of Pollock's most scintillating efforts came against Australia.

Sir Don Bradman loved watching him bat. According to Sydney-based Indian historian Kersi Meher-Homji, after Pollock scored a hundred for the touring South Africans against Australian Combined XI at Perth on the 1963-64 tour, Bradman came up to him and said that he would like to see another innings of similar quality. The great Australian's wish was granted as Pollock took 175 off the Australians in Bradman's home city of Adelaide where the then called Springboks cruised to a 10-wicket Test win. It is no coincidence that Pollock is second to Bradman's average of 99.94 with 60.97 among retired players who have played 20-plus Tests.

Pollock finds it hard to believe it's 50 years for his monumental effort. "No one in South Africa has mentioned this [anniversary] to me and I look back at the innings with great satisfaction," he said.

The 274 was South Africa's highest individual score before they got readmitted to Test cricket. Cullinan, Gary Kirsten, Graeme Smith, AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla have gone past this score but Pollock set the benchmark for his country's future batsmen.

The Proteas will need big scorers to get their Test wagon on track again. They've lost their last three series comprehensively. And they have a problem.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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