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Shaun Pollock: A statistically perfect bowling all-rounder and an all-time great

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Roar Rookie
26th March, 2019
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Many cricketers have come and gone over the years. Some players make a huge impact before hanging up the boots, others don’t leave much of an impact on the game.

Then there are those players who go about their business and finish their careers without much hype but ultimately leave the game with exceptional statistics. One such player is former South African captain Shaun Pollock.

Born on 16 July 1973, Pollock represented South Africa in Tests, ODIs and T20s. He’s part of a dynasty that has represented South Africa – his father, Peter, and uncle, Graeme, both played for the Proteas before South Africa was banned from cricket in the 1970s due to the apartheid regime. His father was a quality bowling all-rounder and uncle Graeme is considered to be one of the greatest batsmen to have ever played the game.

Shaun Pollock maintained a calm, humble demeanour and gained a lot of respect from the cricketing fraternity over the course of his career. He made his Test and ODI debuts against England in 1995 and 1996 respectively and is one of a few players to have scored a 50 and pick up four wickets on ODI debut.

Pollock gained attention when he became only the second bowler in List A cricket history to pick up four wickets in four balls playing for Warwickshire in county cricket. He achieved this feat while on county debut, which is just amazing.

His bowling performances in 1998, when he got 69 wickets in 14 Tests, also helped Shaun gain some attention from cricket fans all over the world.

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Pollock relied on the strategy of bowling a tight line and length. In addition to bowling tight, he could move the ball both ways. When he started he was quite sharp in terms of pace, but a knee injury in 2000 resulted in Pollock reducing his pace and adopting a line-and-length bowling strategy, which helped him reap plenty of success with the ball. It was a similar strategy that was used by Aussie fast bowling great, Glenn McGrath.

Two question do arise, though: Is Shaun Pollock one of the most underrated cricketers of all time? Is he up there with some of the all-time greats? In order to understand the greatness of Shaun Pollock one must analyse his career based on the stats of his Test and ODI career.

When Shaun Pollock retired from international cricket in 2008 he was South Africa’s greatest wicket-taker in both Tests and ODIs. He is now South Africa’s greatest wicket-taker in ODIs and is second in Tests to Dale Steyn, whose record is phenomenal. Steyn recently overtook Pollock in a Test match against Pakistan.

Pollock’s Test record with the ball reads 108 Tests, 421 wickets, 16 five-wicket hauls, one ten-wicket haul, an average of 23.11 at a strike rate of 57.48 with an economy rate of 2.40.

In ODIs, his bowling record reads 303 ODIs, 393 wickets, five five-wicket hauls, an average of 24.51 at a strike rate of 39.98 with an economy rate of 3.68. These are quite impressive bowling statistics.

In regards to his ODI career, Pollock is considered to be one of the greatest bowlers of all time. On the all-time ODI wickets list Pollock is currently sixth behind Shahid Afridi, Chaminda Vaas, Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram and Muttiah Muralitharan. It’s not a bad list to be a part of at all.

Further proof of Pollock’s ODI greatness lies in the fact that he has dismissed one of the greatest ODI batsmen of all time, Sachin Tendulkar, nine times.

The ICC ranked him sixth on the list of all-time great all-rounders, with 3000 career runs and 300 career wickets. Pollock is the only player to have more than 3000 runs and 300 wickets in both ODIs and Tests. During his tenure as captain he won more than 50 per cent and 60 per cent of the Test and ODI matches he captained respectively. He also won the Wisden cricketer of the year award in 2003, which was coincidentally the final year of his captaincy.

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When Shaun Pollock arrived on the scene in 1995 South African great Allan Donald led the Proteas bowling attack aided by Fanie de Villiers, who was a solid bowler. South Africa at the time had a left-arm fast bowler by the name of Brett Schultz waiting as well. Unfortunately Brett was injury prone and had to retire early due to an excessive number of injuries.

South African batsman Shaun Pollock in 2007.

South Africa’s Shaun Pollock (Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

Pollock carved a name for himself and was instrumental in South Africa’s only major ICC tournament victory to date, the ICC Knockout Trophy in 1998, where the Proteas defeated the West Indies in the final. In the year before the 1999 World Cup Pollock also troubled the Australians in the 1998 Commonwealth Games final, picking up three wickets and helping South Africa win the Gold medal.

In the 1999 ICC World Cup in England Pollock bowled well in tandem with the great Allan Donald, picking up a five-wicket haul in the semi-final against Australia. That particular game is considered to be one of the greatest ODIs of all time. Although it resulted in the Proteas being knocked out of the tournament, Pollock shined with the ball, picking up the Waugh brothers, Michael Bevan, Shane Warne and Tom Moody for just 36 runs.

Pollock averaged below 24 with the ball against every Test-playing nation except Australia, who were easily the best team during his career, and that particular Australian team is considered to be the greatest cricket team of all time along with the great West Indies teams of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.

His home-and-away record is also impressive. Away from home Pollock averaged 25.69 with 186 wickets, seven five-wicket hauls, a strike rate of 64.52 and an economy rate of 2.39. He also averaged below 30 against every nation away from home except when he averaged in the mid-30s.

At home Pollock averaged 21.09, with 235 wickets, nine five-wicket hauls, one ten-wicket haul, a strike rate of 52.57 and an economy rate of 2.41. He also averaged below 30 against every nation at home except for Australia, against whom he averaged above 40.

Despite his struggles against the best team of his era, Pollock’s stats are quite remarkable, especially when you take into account that he bowled with the likes of Allan Donald for the first part of his career as well as with Dale Steyn, who got better during the latter years of Pollock’s career.

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Despite the one country he struggled against, Pollock faired very well against every other opposition nation during his career. One particularly intriguing record was his form on the Subcontinent. He is in the top ten for best bowling averages on the Subcontinent by a foreign bowler. Pollock played a total of 17 Tests on the Subcontinent, averaging an outstanding 23.18 and picking up 60 wickets.

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His best performances in Asia came against Pakistan in 1997 and 2003 at Faisalabad, where he got figures of 5-37 and 6-78 respectively. The Subcontinent is considered to be a very difficult place for overseas bowlers, especially fast bowlers. Pollock has fantastic overall figures on the Subcontinent, which indicates how good he really was.

His batting record is also intriguing because he averaged 36.45 away from home with nine 50s and one ton, while at home he averaged 29.12, with seven 50s and one ton. Interestingly, his two Test tons came while batting at No. 9 in 2001, and he is the only batsman at No. 9 to have scored two tons.

Shaun Pollock has a few batting records, batting at No. 8 and No. 9. He was known as a solid fielder as well, and he has 72 catches throughout his Test match career.

Shaun Pollock is arguably one of the greatest to have ever graced the game of cricket. He never had such a hype machine like many of the game’s greats, but he is respected by many among the cricketing fraternity. His record and accomplishments speak for itself.

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Right now he is plying his trade commentating for SuperSport in South Africa and doing a fine job, just like he did when he represented the Proteas over his 13-year playing career.

He is a true great of the game and an underrated figure in world cricket.