'From the top drawer'
Bob Willis pays tribute to one of the best players of his generation, retiring Shaun Pollock.
Last Updated: 15/01/08 6:31pm
The world of international cricket is about to see the final fling of a player from the absolute top drawer.
Shaun Pollock's Test career ended with victory in the third Test against the West Indies last week and after five one-day internationals against the same opposition, a 12-year and 410-game career will come to an end.
No praise can be too high for him. I can't think of a cricketer who has put so many miles on the clock in such a short international career. He has been the mainstay of the South African side for over a decade - he and Jacques Kallis have been the only major, consistent performers for South Africa for the past ten years.
Along with Glenn McGrath he must be the most difficult seam bowler to play of the last generation. He always hit the seam and if there was anything in the pitch, he could always get the most out of it, as was shown again recently in his final Test against the West Indies the other day.
He got a bit of a bum deal when sacked because of the World Cup debacle in South Africa 2003 when he was captain and miscalculated the number of runs his team needed to beat Sri Lanka and the miscalculation cost his team their place in the tournament.
That incident was probably the only time he anywhere near let his team down but the same can't be said of the other way round. I believe he would have taken more than 421 Test wickets had he played in a better team.
His uncle and, for that matter his father latterly, suffered in their careers because of apartheid isolation. The recent periods of the quota system has meant that South Africa hasn't had its strongest 11 on the field and that must have been pretty hard to take for Pollock as one of their leading cricketers.
But he always played the game in the right way, true to his own spirit and the spirit of the game. While his bowling was from the top drawer it should not be forgotten that he was a very capable batsman, in fact just the sort of cricketer that England has been looking for since Beefy retired.
While England unearthed Andrew Flintoff to step into Botham's boots unfortunately Freddie has not been able to stay fit to occupy them consistently. Pollock barely missed a match for South Africa and that was during a period when they really crammed the fixtures in.
With 108 Tests and 302 ODIs (by the time he has finished) plus some 600 first class and List A games - not to mention 20 Twenty20 matches - he has dedicated a lot of days to cricket in a 12-year period since his debut for South African against England at Centurion back in November 1995.
In his generation he would have to be in the top five among the likes of Courtney Walsh, Curtley Ambrose, Glenn McGrath, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis - it's too hard to choose five from those six. From South Africa you would maybe include Allan Donald too but he was more value to his team than Donald, because Pollock averaged 32.31 with the bat as well. Mike Gatting only averaged three more runs per knock than that and he was a frontline batsman for England.
The South African board appear to think they are well equipped to move on without Pollock, having left him out for the first Tests of the summer against New Zealand and West Indies, preferring Andre Nel. You couldn't mention Andre Nel in the same breath as Shaun Pollock as far I am concerned.
Andre is an expressive, honest 'tryer' but he has a terrible action and can be like Steve Harmison at his worst on occasions, with the ball going everywhere.
Although Nel isn't anything like the handful that Pollock is on any surface, the South African bowling attack is not in ill-health. Dale Steyn has had an excellent start to his career and a very good summer while Makhaya Ntini is probably under-rated. He gets loads and loads of wickets and at 31 has a few years left in him still.
The tail might prove to be a problem though for South Africa because without Pollock the batting now stops dead at Mark Boucher at seven and you have four number 11s after that. We know from experience in England that is difficult to bear sometimes.
Pollock's future might well be in England next year with some counties rumoured to be interested in taking him on as a Kolpak player for the 2008 season. My hope is that he stops now because I think it is rather sad when players stop playing the international game but feel as though they still want to earn some money playing county cricket.
Top class cricketers should stop playing when they have stopped playing for their country. I am not a fan of Kolpak players - overseas players in any shape or form for that matter - but certainly not when they have given up on the international game.
Shaun Pollock is a great of the game and I hope he bows out as a winner of a Test match in Johannesburg for his country in front of appreciative packed house rather than in front of a handful of fans at a county ground in England for a couple of quid.
Whichever way he finishes, he will always be one of the greatest international players of his generation.