Dynastical, talismanic and special, Shaun Pollock picks out the ten big moments of his playing career in an exclusive chat with Henry Cowen. Introduction by Roshan Gede.
A fast-bowling metronome with the new ball, Shaun Pollock led South Africa’s bowling attack alongside the great Allan Donald and later Makhaya Ntini with great flair and distinction throughout his 13-year-long international career. Known for his impeccable consistency, Pollock was an integral part of the South African outfit that challenged the best of teams through the 2000s.
He’s one of the seven bowlers to have accounted for over 800 international scalps, a list that features the giant spin trio of Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne and Anil Kumble, alongside pacemen Wasim Akram, Glenn McGrath and James Anderson. Of those wickets, 421 came in Test cricket, a South African record until Dale Steyn surpassed it in 2018. His 393 ODI wickets are the sixth most for anyone in the format. He was a reliable lower-order batsman too, registering a three-digit score in both Tests and ODIs to justify his worth. He’s one of the only five cricketers to have achieved a double of 400 wickets and 3,000 runs in Test cricket.
Pollock took on the captaincy in what was a difficult period for South African cricket post the Hansie Cronje era, a crucial aspect of his career which is often forgotten. Apart from leading his team to 60 ODI wins, the third-best after Graeme Smith (91) and Cronje (99), his tenure saw South Africa register their first-ever Test series win in the Caribbean. All of that, however, does little to overshadow the disappointing exit from the 2003 World Cup at home.
Here’s a look at the 10 big moments from the dynamic cricketer’s career, picked by the man himself.
3-98 | South Africa v England, First Test, Centurion, 1995
I grew up watching the cricket that transpired on TV and I wanted to emulate my uncle and my father. When I got picked for my first Test, received my cap and walked out on to the field, I was going to earn my colours and that was my dream coming true. There’s no doubt that it was very special. I can remember quite a bit, I remember my first few deliveries. My mouth was so dry I could barely swallow and I remember trying to get the ball outside of off stump – I think I was bowling to Graham Thorpe at the time – and despite the fact that my forte was being accurate and bowling one side of the wicket, I was drifting down the leg side and generally not bowling anything like I was used to. Then Thorpe got a little edge to one of my deliveries and I got my first wicket, which calmed me down.
The ankle surgery
From pace to precision | 1996
I used to hit a few people on the head but after my Test debut I had an ankle operation and I was probably never as quick again. It probably worked out really well for me because the line and length that I used to bowl in South Africa was more back of a length, which was effective there, but in order to be successful in the subcontinent, or even in England, you have to be a touch fuller so that ankle operation made me bowl a different length and probably made me a bit more streetwise. It worked out for the better in the end.
6-21 | Warwickshire v Leicestershire, Benson & Hedges Cup, Edgbaston, 1996
I got four wickets in four balls on my debut for Warwickshire which was very important for me because I came to the county the year after Brian Lara had set the world alight! In those days there was only one overseas player so you walk in to the dressing room and you want to do a job and prove to the other boys that you can play well. You need to make a good start and you’re keen to make a good impression so to get four in four on debut was a pretty good introduction.
The County ton
107 | Northamptonshire v Warwickshire, County Championship, County Ground, 1996
I got my first first-class hundred when I was playing for Warwickshire, which was a lovely moment. Andy Moles was at the other end and he really helped me through it. He was a senior pro at the time and it was great to have him helping me through the whole process. It was against Northamptonshire, who had an attack with Curtly Ambrose, so I really enjoyed that because it was something that I just really wanted to tick off!
4-19 | South Africa v Australia, Commonwealth Games, Malaysia, 1998
The gold medal in the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Malaysia was special. It’s the only time cricket’s ever been at the Games and it was my first time captaining the side because a couple of the guys had been rested after our tour of England. We managed to beat Steve Waugh’s Australia side in the final so from a captaincy point of view that was a very nice experience. Also I managed to get Mark Waugh, Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting and Darren Lehmann out, so it was good to lead from the front.
40, 7-87 & 2-61 | Australia v South Africa, Third Test, Adelaide, 1998
I bowled 50-odd overs in one day but it was special for me – my personal best bowling figures. The surface was pretty good, it wasn’t the most conducive surface for fast bowling which is why it took so long to get the wickets. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to win the game, but we did have one incident where a bouncer I bowled hit Mark Waugh on the elbow and his bat went back, hit the stumps and knocked the bails off. It was given not out after the umpire had looked at the replay and reviewed it. He said he had completed his shot. After a huge effort from our side it ended in a draw which is unfortunate because if we won that we would have levelled the series.
It was like bowling was my job and batting was my hobby. I felt from a young age that playing the game of cricket was a matter of both bowling and batting, if I didn’t do both I felt like I’d played half a game. Despite that, my first Test century came in 2001 so it took me a while! I had been playing for five years and I think I had one 90 by that stage, as well as quite a few other decent scores when I could have gone on and got a ton. I was taking quite a bit of ribbing in the changing room about it and the lads were giving me a hard time so it was a fair bit of relief. It was at Centurion against Sri Lanka and I remember it was one of those days where you walk to the crease and from ball one everything you see you just hit. We weren’t in a great position and it was doing a little bit but I think at that stage it was the equal-fastest century for South Africa, 90-odd balls [95 balls, equal with Jonty Rhodes] or something. Everything just came off the middle; if it was full then it was through the covers and anything that was dropped short went on to the bank.
I never had the paper in my hand at any stage but as a captain if something goes wrong you take the responsibility on your shoulders. You don’t shy away and blame somebody else in the media. At that time I took the responsibility. It was unfortunate, we didn’t know the game was going to stop there and if we’d managed to get one more run we would have been through to the next round and we would have had a good chance of making it through to the semifinals and trying to win the World Cup. It was disappointing but I think when you look back on your career the low moments are what mould you and they stand you in good stead for the future battles you may face. You don’t perceive them as highlights but they definitely do make you a stronger person.
130 | Asia XI v Africa XI, Afro-Asia Cup, Bangalore, 2007
I got one ODI hundred and it was for Africa XI against Asia XI. I had a bit of a niggle but they asked me to go and play for the team just as a batsman, which I did for all three matches, and I enjoyed that because people always look at all-rounders and ask whether they can hold their place as just a batsman or a bowler if they had only one skill. To be picked as a batsman and then to get a hundred left me quietly proud.
First published in December 2013