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Playing for love, not money

Submitted by on Saturday, 4 April 2009No Comment
Playing for love, not money

The SA Cricketer of the Century and ICC Hall of Fame inductee recalls his glory days during a golden era of amateur cricket.

You are arguably one of the greatest left handed batsmen in the history of cricket; but you aren’t left handed?

No I’m not; I’m right handed. As a left-handed batsman your top hand is your free hand so it is probably an advantage if you are right handed. It’s interesting to see how in some sports, left-handed players look great and in others they look wrong. Like I think left handed tennis players look stunning, whereas I think left handers look terrible in golf. In cricket they look good. Most bowlers bowl across a lefthander. As a result it doesn’t tuck them in because it’s running away from them, so there is more fluency.

You had one of your greatest games when you were still at primary school.

Yes – they actually have the score card from the game at the Old Grey club in Port Elizabeth. It was 1954 we played Union High in Graaf Reniet. We were bowled out for 120 and I was 111 not out.

What was it like being a child prodigy; doing something that most people found difficult, yet you found so easy?

It wasn’t like that. For example I started a tour of Australia in 1963 aged nineteen and my first two scores I got in South African colours were nought and one. That’s not how I wanted to start my career! In ’64 against England I didn’t get runs either. Everyone says if you have got talent you just go out and smash it around and it’s easy. But I worked pretty hard at my game. I was very disciplined, very determined to do well at cricket and mentally I was strong. I might not have run round the block and done all the fancy fitness training, but I was very single-minded.

When you were facing a fast bowler what did you focus on?

You try and pick up all the little things that can help you. You watch his hand; see how he holds the ball; anything that gives you an indication of how he might bowl it. And then when you were at the non-striker’s end you’d watch how he shone the ball; how he put it into his bowling hand; how he gripped it just before he released it – all of that. We didn’t have TV then so we were often playing against guys we had heard of, but had never seen. Nowadays they have everything from videos, replays and slow mo’s which obviously helps, but we didn’t have that.

Of the bowlers of your era, who were the toughest to bat against?

It depended on where you were playing and what the wicket was like. Sylvester Clarke was a very classy quickie. Proccie was always dangerous. But maybe the best I played against was Dennis Lillee. He was aggressive, he was quick and he had control.

Was there much sledging in your day?

There was some, but not much. Remember we weren’t paid to play. I think I got R100 towards expenses for a Test match. But I think we were all doing it because we loved the game – we weren’t playing for money – so I suppose players were less inclined to sledge each other. And of course everyone worked/ had jobs – you had to, to support yourself. We played hard – especially against the Aussies, but it wasn’t nasty. At the end of the day’s play we would go and have a drink with them and then have a go at them the next day.

What work were you doing at the time?

I was in advertising for about ten years. And then I went into industrial clothing for a long time. The people I was with were very good about time off. Interestingly the worth of having a sporting guy working for you was far less than it is now. Because there was no TV, most people might have heard of you, but they wouldn’t know what you looked like. Although when I got a nought on the weekend I avoided my clients. When I got 100, I saw them all (laughs).

Sir Donald Bradman rated you and Sir Garfield Sobers as the two best left-handed batsmen he had ever seen playing cricket. Apart from Bradman who would you choose to bat for your life?

There were some really good players like Ted Dexter, Colin Cowdrey and Greg Chappell was a great player, but the two best batsmen I played with and against, were Gary Sobers and Barry Richards.

Why did you never play county cricket (in the UK)?

I didn’t think it was a great competition. To try and get a result in three days at 6 hrs a day was impossible. Also there was never much money there. Everyone thinks county cricketers were well paid. When you consider that the exchange rate at the time was like two to one, it wasn’t great money. I was over there playing for the International Cavaliers – I earned £3000 for six months playing Sunday afternoons; while Proccie’s earnings for a season of county cricket were £1500. I had offers – for Nottingham and I was offered the captaincy of Somerset in ’69.

Cricket runs in the Pollock family. Your dad played wicket keeper for Free State, and your two sons could play.

My dad’s father came out to start the Presbyterian Church in Bloemfontein. So my dad played for Free State and his claim to fame was stumping Dudley Nourse when he was on 231(laughs).Yes the boys both played for Transvaal. Anthony certainly was hugely talented. He played for SA Schools, he also played for Northerns. The problem at Transvaal then was, there were so many good players like Mandy and Darryl in your middle order, and they played for South Africa, which made it very difficult for him.

And your brother was a great fast bowler?

It was wonderful having him around because he was two and a half years older than me. So he paved the way for me. He played SA Schools in ’59 and I played in ’60. He played EP in ’60 and I played in ’62. Then he played for South Africa in ’62 and I played in ’63. But we also had a few tussles – I always just wanted to bat and he ended up having to do a bit of bowling. I just hated to get out.

And of course your nephew Shawn was Springbok captain.

Yes, Shawn and my Anthony played for SA Schools together. Shawn opened the bowling for them. But he did fantastically well and he handled his career properly. It was lovely to see how he progressed.

Going back to your career – which innings do you rate as your best?

The 274 I scored in Durban against Australia in the 2nd test in 1970; in what turned out to be our last series for 22 years. And who ever thought it would last that long. But that series against the Aussies, which we won 4 – 0 and fairly easily, we had that unbelievable team Captained by Ali Bacher. It contained greats like, Eddie Barlow, Trevor Goddard, Denis Lindsay, Mike Procter, my brother Peter and Barry Richards. When I made 274 Barry Richards got a century in the same innings.

One thing that has changed enormously over the years is the equipment. What was it like playing against the quickest bowlers in the world without a helmet?

We didn’t have arm guards, thigh pads, chest guards or helmets – any of that stuff. In our day if you got hit on the head you were in trouble. Helmets came in, in 1978. Technically I think we played differently without helmets. Because now if you lose sight of the ball you can drop your head and let the helmet take it. But I saw a few guys hit on the head and it was a mess.

Another change which has occurred is in the way players now train and prepare for a game. You were apparently quite cynical about it. What do you feel about the new way?

Well in my time if Fredie Trueman knew he had a long day in the sun ahead of him, he would sit down with a cup of tea and his pipe, and put his feet up. So when he went on to play he was absolutely fresh. What I queried was that I didn’t think playing soccer to warm up before going on for a match was necessary. You know you’re going to bowl; it’s hot as hell and you say, ‘Hell I’m playing soccer. Hope I don’t twist my ankle. Shouldn’t I be conserving my energy?’

What do you feel about probably the most noticeable change; the 20/20 format?

It’s going to take a bit of getting used to. I think it is a bit one-sided against the bowlers. They are on a hiding to nothing. You have limited field placing; can’t bowl down the leg side or else it’s a wide, etc; for some classy bowler to expose his bowling with those limitations to some slogger, I think is unfair. They have to balance it out. They also have to work out some tactics. I don’t think anyone has really got the hang of it yet.

You have won a stunning array of awards. When you look back which one was the most satisfying?

Two of them – I think being made SA Cricketer of the Century and my recent induction into the ICC Hall of Fame. There were 55 people inducted. Barry Richards and I were the two South Africans who made it. Mind you I’m not sure who the selectors were. There are 22 English players and only 10 Aussies in the Hall of Fame. As far as I am concerned Australia is a better cricketing country and has produced better cricketers, so the ratio is debatable. I also feel there should be more South Africans; guys like Hugh Tayfield and Dudley Nourse.

At one stage there were rumours circulating about you drinking too much; that you weren’t handling your retirement from the game too well. What was that all about?

For a couple of years the relief of being out of cricket and the stress of it – meant I probably tended to push it a little bit. And I did. Unfortunately there are so many stories about ex-sportsmen going to the dogs. Luckily I had friends that told me I wasn’t actually achieving anything; that life goes on and I must live a normal life. I realised I was going in the wrong direction. Fortunately I was a disciplined guy and I caught it; lots of ex sportsmen don’t.

You had a brief career doing the sport’s reports on Radio 702 – tell me about that.

Oh yes with John Burks – that was a bit of a disaster. Firstly it was the wrong time of the morning. Leaving for town at four thirty in the morning to do a five o clock sport’s report, didn’t suit me – I’m not an early bird. And hell those tennis names became a bit of a nightmare. When I was writing my reports, I would leave results out when I couldn’t pronounce the names. I certainly wasn’t a prodigy at that.

You have been feted and praised beyond most other famous sport’s stars. How when you tried to ignore the negative press, did you also manage to ignore the praise singers?

I don’t see my career as an extraordinary performance (laughs). From my side it just happened, with a bit of effort from me. So I never felt particularly special or important.

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