January 13, 2008

Freckles and Ginger top.

Shaun Maclean Pollock has retired from international cricket. It is only fitting that he has bowed out with a five-for in his final game that South Africa won by an innings and a hundred runs.

Over the past thirteen years, Shaun has epitomised all that has been good in international cricket.

Product of a highly accomplished cricketing clan (ref. Graeme and Peter Pollock), Shaun has had to work doubly hard from the onset of his career. His entry to the national side was at a time when his father was the convener of selectors, and time and again he had to prove his worth in the side. That he proved it by the sheer weight of his performance speaks volubly about the values of the man and the clan that he belonged to. Once established as one of the boys, he combined with Alan Donald to conjure a formidable pace duo that established South Africa as virtually impregnable at home and highly dangerous everywhere else. South Africa's rise to the top echelons of international cricket in the late nineties owed a lot to the abilities of these two gents.

The glory days of that Cronje era weren't to last long though. The betting scandal stormed South African cricket and Donald started to fizzle out. It fell upon Pollock to weather some very tumultuous times. Not only was he left to manouvre a fresh and un-tested pace-attack, he was also appointed to a rocky captaincy reeling from the jolts of the match-fixing expose. For the next three years Shaun Pollock set about re-building his team's reputation, carrying out both his duties without the slightest hint of failing - winning series after series all over the world with the worthy exception of Australia. His captaincy, his man-management and his PR-skills in the post-Cronje era especially stood out, and were testaments to his inner strengths.

In the aftermath of a failed home world cup in 2003 he was ousted as the Captain. The load of single-handedly carrying the pace-attack all this while was beginning to take a toll on his speed as well. He was forced on a break but he refused to let that dampen his fighting spirit. A fierce competitor, he came back into national reckoning with renewed vigour and heightened accuracy. It brought him a bowler's salvation - loads of prized sub-continent wickets and something of a realisation of his underrated batting potential. Just reward for a proud man!

By 2007 a new quick attack had started to take shape for South Africa with Ntini discovering consistency and Dale Steyn showing up as the new spearhead. Pollock welcomed the competition, and has spent large parts of the past year grooming these successors, passing on to them valuable lessons on the importance of pitching it on line and length. The new generation looks raring to go now and like all other previous times, Shaun has known that the time is right.

This has been the story of a man who has done all that was asked of him and then some more. A lesser man would have struggled to carry bowling attacks, a weaker character would have succumbed to match-fixing and no other man could have resurrected such a proud sporting culture. Shaun Pollock did it with a smile, both in victory and in defeat.