Graeme Pollock: stats analysis May 24, 2010

One of South Africa's finest

Graeme Pollock played only 23 Tests, but finished with 2256 runs and an average bordering on 61, which is one of the best for any batsman
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Don Bradman reckoned that Graeme Pollock was one of the two best left-hand batsmen he ever saw - Garry Sobers was the other - and the numbers bear that out. Pollock played only 23 Tests, but finished with 2256 runs and an average bordering on 61. Those are stats that put him up there among the best batsmen - of either hand - to ever play the game.

He played his last Test when he was 26, but even in a brief six-year career he made such a mark that he is still counted among the greats. His precociousness, though, was evident much before he made his international debut. At the age of nine, he took all ten wickets and scored 117 for Grey High School; at 16, he scored a first-class century, thus becoming the youngest to achieve the feat, a record which stayed till Daryll Cullinan broke it in 1983-84.

He duly got his Test cap when he was less than 20, and while his first three innings fetched only 43, in his third Test, and still a couple of months short of his 20th birthday, Pollock scored 122 against Australia in Sydney. That made him the youngest South African Test centurion at the time, and it's a record that still stands in his name.

That Sydney century was followed by another one in the next Test, in Adelaide, but his best period started from 1965: in 15 Tests from 1965 to 1970, Pollock scored more than 1700 runs at an average of more than 72, with 15 fifty-plus scores. In his first eight Tests, his average was a relatively low 40.30.

Graeme Pollock's Test career
Period Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Before 1965 8 524 40.30 2/ 1
1965 onwards 15 1732 72.16 5/ 10
Career 23 2256 60.97 7/ 11

His career average of 60.97 is second only to Bradman's (among those with at least 2000 Test runs), and a shade ahead of George Headley. Those three, along with Herbert Sutcliffe, are the only ones with a Test average of more than 60.

Best Test averages (Qual: 2000 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Don Bradman 52 6996 99.94 29/ 13
Graeme Pollock 23 2256 60.97 7/ 11
George Headley 22 2190 60.83 10/ 5
Herbert Sutcliffe 54 4555 60.73 16/ 23
Ken Barrington 82 6806 58.67 20/ 35
Everton Weekes 48 4455 58.61 15/ 19

Pollock's overall first-class career was impressive enough, but he was one of the few players who finished with a higher Test average. In 262 first-class matches he averaged 54.67, which was more than six runs fewer than his Test average. Among South Africans who've played at least 20 Tests, only three players have a higher difference.

South Africans wih highest difference between Test and first-class averages (Qual: 20 Tests)
Batsman Tests Average FC matches FC average Difference
Colin Bland 21 49.09 131 37.95 11.14
Bob Catterall 24 37.92 124 29.99 7.93
Eddie Barlow 30 45.74 283 39.16 6.58
Graeme Pollock 23 60.97 262 54.67 6.30

Test cricket has seen several great No.4 batsmen, and Pollock easily fits in among them. In the 37 innings he batted in that position, Pollock scored 2065 runs at an average that was slightly higher than his career average. All seven of his hundreds came at that slot, as did eight out of 11 fifties. Among batsmen who've scored more than 2000 runs at this position, only West Indies' Everton Weekes has a higher average.

In fact, South Africa have a history of some pretty good No.4s both before and after Pollock: Dudley Nourse averaged exactly 50 from 53 innings, while Cullinan continued that tradition when South Africa returned to the international fold. The latest to keep the flag flying high is Jacques Kallis, who is one of only three batsmen to average more than 60 at this position (with a cut-off of 2000 runs).

Best averages at No.4 (Qual: 2000 runs)
Batsman Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Everton Weekes 57 3372 63.62 11/ 17
Graeme Pollock 37 2065 62.57 7/ 8
Jacques Kallis 130 6943 61.99 25/ 31
Mahela Jayawardene 133 7287 59.72 24/ 24
Mohammad Yousuf 60 3373 59.17 11/ 13
Ken Barrington 44 2367 59.17 7/ 12
Greg Chappell 86 4316 59.12 15/ 19
Peter May 49 2383 58.12 7/ 12
Norman O'Neill 41 2010 57.42 5/ 10
Sachin Tendulkar 220 11,239 57.34 41/ 45

Pollock was part of a strong South African team - they lost only three of the 23 Tests he played, and won nine. In those nine games, Pollock had ten fifty-plus scores, which shows he had a pretty significant role to play in those victories. His highest Test score of 274 came in a win as well, in what turned out to be his final series, against Australia. Among those who've scored at least 750 runs in wins, Pollock's average of 84.14 is next only to those of Bradman and George Headley. Unfortunately for Pollock, he played only two more Tests - both of which South Africa won - before South Africa were banned from playing international matches.

Best averages in Test wins (Qual: 750 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Don Bradman 30 4813 130.08 23/ 4
George Headley 5 766 95.75 4/ 1
Graeme Pollock 9 1178 84.14 4/ 6
Clyde Walcott 12 1113 79.50 3/ 4
Mike Denness 8 783 78.30 4/ 1
Inzamam-ul-Haq 49 4690 78.16 17/ 20

Pollock was at his best in home conditions: in the 14 Tests he played in South Africa, he averaged almost 69, scoring four hundreds and nine fifties in 26 innings. In 15 away innings, though, his average dropped to marginally less than 50, which is still very good by most standards.

His average in South Africa remains the highest among those who've scored at least 1500 runs in the country. It's also well clear of the second-placed Nourse, who averaged ten runs fewer.

Highest batting averages in South Africa (Qual: 1500 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Graeme Pollock 14 1513 68.77 4/ 9
Dudley Nourse 20 1881 58.78 6/ 8
Jacques Kallis 74 5927 56.44 18/ 31
Herbie Taylor 22 2001 48.80 6/ 11
Bruce Mitchell 20 1647 48.44 3/ 11
Ashwell Prince 33 2001 47.64 7/ 5
Graeme Smith 43 3125 45.95 9/ 14

The lack of matches means Pollock doesn't have the sheer number of runs like most of the other greats have. In all other aspects, though, his career compares favourably with the best there has ever been.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo