At Trent Bridge in 1965, Graeme Pollock unleashed one of his many specials, helping South Africa win their first Test series in England after three decades.
English observers still revere Graeme Pollock, due as much to the sense of what we were deprived of, as for the few magical moments we saw.
This was a man touched by genius, but whose Test career was sawn off after just 23 matches when the international community and its sporting representatives isolated the Apartheid-governed South Africa. Pollock’s impact, in that short bittersweet period before the ban came into effect in 1971, still has connoisseurs wondering what he might have achieved, if fate and politics could have avoided such an ugly clinch.
He never played county cricket, so English memories of Pollock are restricted to 1965’s three-match series, taken 1-0 by the Proteas after a great Trent Bridge Test was immortalised by a Pollock classic.
On a damp, grassy wicket on a blustery first morning, Tom Cartwright blew away the top order to leave South Africa 43-4, but Pollock, batting at four – “untrammelled”, as the cricket writer Ralph Barker wrote, “by notions of what was and was not possible on this wicket” – just kept on hitting, just sizing up the length and hitting.
When the fifth wicket fell Pollock changed tempo, if not technique, taking 33 minutes for his second 50 runs, and going to his century in 128 minutes. He then smashed another 25 runs in the next 11 minutes, before Cartwright finally got his man caught at slip, although Pollock, an honest man, insists to this day that he didn’t nick it. In the 70 minutes after lunch he had made 91 of the 102 runs scored. One of those languorous cover drives in his 145-ball 125 would bring up his thousandth run in Test cricket, aged just 21 – the youngest ever at the time.
His side were bowled out later that day for 269. Graeme’s brother Peter, the father of Shaun, then took centre stage, removing Boycott in the first over for nought, and taking nine more in the match. South Africa completed a 94-run win late on day four, and duly took the series with a draw at The Oval.
Over the next six years Graeme Pollock would take two double centuries off Australia, make seven Test tons in all, and finish, aged 28 and in his prime, with a Test average over 60.
It would be 29 years before English audiences caught another glimpse of South Africa’s cricket team.
First published in 2007.