Cricket World Cup: Pollock relishes conditions to enhance classic pedigree

South Africa's record-breaking all-rounder is eager to exploit English pitches
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The Independent Online
THE GENE pool that spawned Shaun Pollock was always likely to produce a cricketer of the highest quality. His father, Peter, was an opening bowler with 116 Test wickets for South Africa at 24.18 runs apiece, while his uncle, Graeme, is probably the best-kept batting secret of the millennium. In an international career restricted through isolation, he was still good enough to average 60.97 after 41 visits to the Test crease, second only to Sir Donald Bradman.

The younger Pollock has inherited both batting and bowling talents and goes into his first World Cup as one of the game's premier all-rounders. A few months ago he shot to the top of the pile as the quickest to accomplish the 1,000 runs-100 wickets double - achieving the feat in 68 matches and eclipsing Ian Botham, who took 75 - and was also the youngest, being 25 years and 253 days, beating Steve Waugh by 31 days.

Nevertheless, South Africa's vice- captain remains typically modest. "Records are there to be broken and mine will go, too," he says. "Obviously it was a wonderful moment for me because Botham was such a great player. It was always going to be that much easier for me because I don't bowl that much differently, whether it's in one-dayers or Tests. The adjustment isn't as big as it is for some others.

"However, I still believe the five-day game is the true test of someone's ability, but the boys do enjoy the one-dayers. The crowd plays a big part in creating the atmosphere and to only play in the Test arena would probably be a lot harder. Also, in South Africa we have a lot of one-day competitions, so it hasn't been that difficult adapting."

Pollock has been looking forward to the World Cup since captaining South Africa to Commonwealth Games gold in Kuala Lumpur last September. "We had a young team there and used the tournament to blood players like [Nicky] Boje, [Derek] Crookes, [Alan] Dawson and [Dale] Benkenstein. To have beaten a full-strength Australia in the final, captained by Steve Waugh, was a great feeling.

"I said at the time that Hansie [Cronje] could have the captaincy back. Now I am vice-captain for the World Cup and if something happens to him I must expect to take over. It's an honour, but captaincy has never really been an issue and besides, Hansie is still young. It wouldn't be the end of the world if I didn't ever captain South Africa again."

Pollock's rise to the top echelon of all-rounders has been nothing short of meteoric. His Test debut was against England on their 1995-96 tour of South Africa and his one-day baptism was against the same opponents.

He announced his arrival by winning the man of the match award and, well, the rest is now in Wisden. His county debut with Warwickshire in 1996 was equally dramatic, taking four wickets with his first four balls in a Benson & Hedges match against Leicestershire. "I would love to have another crack at the county scene, but I want it to be with Warwicks," he says. "I just have to wait until Allan Donald departs..."

The South African feels that the World Cup winners will come from the side with the strongest batting line-up, and, padding up at No 7, Pollock clearly feels his country are justified in being the bookmakers' favourites. "In England the ball nips around a lot in the morning. You can lose three wickets for nothing on those tracks and the movement the seamers get always has the batsmen in trouble. I think that us apart, the Australians will be very tough. They always are, while England will be in with a shout and perhaps a fourth side, Pakistan. It will come down to batting depth, but with Tendulkar, Jayasuriya, the Waughs and Lara there, anything can happen, honestly."

What is certain is that South Africa have done all their homework. They completed an intensive training camp in Cape Town, where they practiced with the same balls which will be used in the World Cup, and they also simulated likely English conditions, where the pitches aren't as hard and bouncy as they are back home. "We're ready to do the business. We all know what it's going to take to win and hopefully we will have a bit of luck along the way. Every team will need some," he says.

Pollock's provincial debut came in the 1992/93 season in a Natal side which included established Test players like Andrew Hudson, Jonty Rhodes and Pat Symcox. It was also laden with young talent in Lance Klusener, Crookes, Neil Johnson and Benkenstein. And, of course, one Test legend, the West Indian player-coach Malcolm Marshall.

"Marshall was a big influence on my career," says Pollock. "He taught us to have confidence in our ability and, while respecting opponents, not to feel inferior. He instilled in us that we were as good as anyone and at one stage was credited with the comment that I had one of the best bouncers he had seen because I had hit so many batsmen on the head.

"When he returned as coach of the West Indies side on their tour of the Republic at the beginning of the year he took a lot of flak. We whitewashed them 5-0 in the Tests, but we played some damn good cricket at crucial times in doing so. Maybe we weren't given the credit we deserved. They weren't as poor as people made out, but were affected by the absence of Jimmy Adams. Also, when you're on tour and results start going against you, it's really difficult to turn around. I think they showed back in their home country [against Australia] that they are still a force."

Pollock is one of those people who does not have a bad word for anyone, and he has become a crowd favourite in grounds around the globe. In their testing tour of Australia in 1996/97 Pollock won his way into the home hearts simply by returning an oversize beachball to the crowd, just as it was about to be seized and popped by a security guard. The official was jeered for the rest of the match, the player was applauded.

The 25-year-old fiery redhead has grown used to hearing cheers and, given his undoubted pedigree, there will be more Cup heroics. Enough to have father Peter and uncle Graeme saying silently: "That's my boy."