Sunday, June 2, 2013

Excerpts from Indra Vikram Singh's book 'Don's Century' ..... 20 - Chapter 7 : PEERLESS RUNGETTER AND OTHER MASTERS OF THE WILLOW (The South African greats 24. Graeme Pollock and 25. Barry Richards)

The South African Graeme Pollock was also a top-class left-handed strokeplayer like Sobers, but that is where the comparison ended. In almost every other way Pollock was different. Tall, strongly built and seemingly laboured, he was not athletic, unlike Sobers, and it showed in his running between wickets, and fielding, where he was at best a safe catcher. Stooping low into his stance, with legs spread apart, the power in his shots came from timing, quite the anti-thesis of Sobers who had a big backlift and played his shots with a flourish.

Pollock was also considered primarily an off-side player, like another big man Wally Hammond, but could get the ball away on the on-side, particularly with his short-arm pull shots. His 3 lb bat, very heavy for those times, was like a club as he drove and cut in awesome fashion. Inzamam-ul-Haq was perhaps, in some ways, a mirror image of Graeme Pollock for their laidback style, but that was an illusion because they spotted the ball early and had plenty of time to play their strokes. That explained their unhurried movements. The Pakistani batsman though was more aesthetic, with footwork quite nimble for a burly physique, and apt to hit straighter.    

Prodigiously talented, one of Pollock’s finest innings was at Nottingham in 1965. With the ball seaming around, South Africa were reduced to 80 for five. He put on 98 with skipper Peter van der Merwe, whose contribution was 10. Pollock slammed the English bowlers for 21 boundaries all over Trent Bridge, clocking up 125 runs off 145 balls.

His finest hour came at Durban in 1970. In the company of Barry Richards, he flayed the Australian attack. Pollock went on record the highest Test score for South Africa, a tremendous 274 that demoralised the opposition. At 26 years he was at the height of his powers when, soon after, South Africa were banished from Test cricket for their policy of apartheid. It was a cruel blow, for Pollock had aggregated 2256 runs in only 23 Tests for an average of 60.97, the best-ever barring Bradman, among those who have played at least 20 innings.

Barry Richards suffered an even worse fate. That was the only Test series he got to play. In those four games he scored 508 runs, averaging 72.57, with two hundreds. His highest of 140 was in that scintillating stand with Graeme Pollock at Durban when they blasted 103 runs in an hour after lunch on the first day. Richards reached his century in the first over after lunch off just 116 deliveries. Several observers have rated him among the best batsmen ever. Brian Johnston watched him at close quarters, not only in that 1969-70 home series against Australia, but for long years in county cricket for Hampshire, where his opening partner was a West Indian named Gordon Greenidge.

Johnston wrote in It’s Been a Piece of Cake: “He had, and played, every stroke off the front foot and the back. With a high backlift he played beautifully straight, and used his feet far more than the others I have mentioned (Sobers, Hutton, May, Cowdrey, Greg Chappell and Viv Richards), with the exception of Bradman, Hammond and Compton. He would even dance down the wicket to the fast bowlers. Barry’s technique was backed by his supreme confidence in his own ability, and an insolent contempt for all bowlers.” The little master himself, Sunil Gavaskar, made a telling observation in The Times of India in 1995: “Barry Richards was the first batsman I saw playing the lofted shot over extra-cover. This was in the Sunday League in England in 1971. Till he demonstrated how to do it, batsmen tended to hit the ball over the infield on the legside if they wanted quick runs. The inside-out shot over extra-cover is more difficult, for one has to really get to the pitch of the ball to be able to hit it away from the fielders. Since there used to be no fielders posted on the extra-cover boundary, it was easy to pick up boundaries there and soon this shot was being copied by other batsmen effectively and is now a normal shot in all kinds of cricket.” That is a stamp of genius.  

In his very first season for Hampshire in 1968, Richards topped their run chart with 2395 runs. The next highest for the county was by Barry Reed with a tally of 990. He scored heavily each year in county cricket, though he had moderate success for the Rest of the World, who replaced the banned South African team, for the 1970 tour of England. Richards went Down Under to play in the Sheffield Shield, and he was sensational. In 1970-71, he hit up 356 for South Australia against Western Australia, 325 of which were scored on the first day of the match. In 1977 he signed up for Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket. Even though he was past his prime, Richards performed exceedingly well, confronted as he was with quality opposition once again.

It is, therefore, not altogether a surprise that Bradman chose him to partner Arthur Morris in his All Time XI. For a man of Richards’ calibre it became increasingly difficult to motivate himself to continue playing the inferior trundlers at the first-class level. He walked away from it all, frustrated at being kept out of Test cricket.

Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards were part of a brilliant South African team that continued the process begun by the supremely talented West Indies teams led by Frank Worrell and Gary Sobers, and finally and emphatically did away with the supremacy of England and Australia for the first time in the 90-year history of Test cricket. Under Peter van der Merwe and Ali Bacher, South Africa defeated England 1-0 in 1965 in an away series, and then trounced Australia twice at home, 3-1 in a five-Test series in 1966-67, and a 4-0 whitewash in 1969-70. Coming off a comfortable 3-1 triumph in India, Bill Lawry’s Australian side was handed a mauling of frightening proportions by the South Africans. The margins of defeat were 170 runs, innings and 127 runs, 307 runs, and 323 runs. It was humiliating, to put in kindly, and a far cry from the heady days of Bradman. South Africa could now justifiably claim to being the no. 1 Test team in the world, even as their apartheid regime resulted in prevention of face-offs with the ‘coloured’ nations.

The nucleus of the 1965-70 South African teams comprised the allrounders, former skipper Trevor Goddard and Eddie Barlow, arguably the greatest-ever cover fielder Colin Bland, wicketkeeper-batsman Dennis Lindsay, pace duo of Graeme’s elder brother Peter Pollock and the wrong-footed in-swinger Mike Procter, who was also a tremendous batsman, and two star rungetters Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards. It is such a pity that their Test careers had to be halted abruptly in their prime.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email

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