December 16, 2000

Vic Pollard - the captain who might have been

Vic Pollard brought a special quality to New Zealand cricket from 1965-73 and won a special place in the game's history for putting the strength of his convictions ahead of his love of the game.

His was a remarkable career. A dual international, he represented New Zealand in 32 tests (between 1965-73) and 12 soccer

internationals (1968-72). A punishing batsman on his day he was also feared for the power of his goal-kicking strike in the winter game.

Pollard finished both sports prematurely, as they had begun to be scheduled for

Sunday play more often, which conflicted with his Christian beliefs. Although radio commentator Peter

Sharp thinks Vic's dodgy hips would have given out on him, Pollard himself believes he could have played

for ten more years at the top level , and captained the team successfully too. One of the stars of "The Finest

Years," Dick Brittenden's account of New Zealand cricket between 1956-76, Pollard was described as a

player of "virtue and violence," who "always played it hard and clean." He ended his test career with

scores of 116, 105 not out (at Lord's) and 62, averaging 100.7 in the 1973 series in England.

He is now deputy principal at Middleton Grange School in Christchurch, is married with five children and has had his hips replaced.

Pollard was born in Burnley, Lancashire, England in 1945. He says, "I'm very proud of my British heritage." Pollard toured there in 1965, 1969 and 1973. Although he has lived in New Zealand since the age of seven ,he's still got his British passport.

Pollard states; "New Zealand has given me so much educationally and in sport, but I might not have had the same breaks had I been in Britain, I might have done, one doesn't know." He hasn't returned since a holiday in 1974, preferring to stay in Christchurch with his family.

He could have made a living from the game by becoming an English county professional, like contemporary Glenn Turner, Ces Dacre before him, and Geoff Howarth, John Wright, Richard Hadlee, Chris Cairns and others after.

He explains: "I got offered a pro cricket contract with Lancashire after my first tour in '65, because I didn't have to qualify,being British born." He had done one year at university towards a science degree, and turned it down. He would have loved to have played professional cricket or soccer.

"I wouldn't play on Sunday because of my Christian beliefs, but I'd have loved to have played sport six days a week." Pollard shared his beliefs with fellow test players Bryan Yuile and Bruce Murray, and all three were lost to the game through their reluctance to play on the Sabbath.

His beliefs contrast sharply with his 'one of the lads' persona, but that would have been tested by the county treadmill.

"I didn't fancy the kind of social life that cricketers enjoy, and their entertainment and conversation tend to be around... I don't need to explain. That life, being a Christian person, I thought it was a narrow existence, but just to actually compete- I would have loved it."

His moral decisiveness would have made him a good role model to fellow players as a cricket captain. He would have been too except, "they wanted me to go to the West Indies and play on Sundays and I refused to go. Bevan Congdon went and became captain. I don't think there was any doubt [that I was not going to become captain.]"

While Pollard never aspired to be a captain in the early days, he was typically motivated by the challenge.

"I sort of enjoyed it because I'd be mentally exhausted by the end of the day. I have got a mind that flips over ideas very quickly, and I expect so much from my players but I never ask anything of them that I wouldn't do."

Pollard was very successful as Central Districts captain. They won two out of three Plunket Shields and were unlucky in the third in 1968/9, before moving to Canterbury to continue his studies at Teaching College.

He was vice-captain and as such was lined up as captain, as "there was no one else". Bevan Congdon came in as captain for the 1971/2 West Indies tour when Graham Dowling had to return home, then Pollard finished, then Congdon got the captaincy for the 1973 tour to Britain.

Vic forthrightly claims; "he wasn't too popularyou only have to ask a few players!" Vic was chosen controversiallyhe knew that only one of the three Christian players would be selected as there was Sunday play, and it turned out to be Pollard, who had hardly played for Canterbury that season.

Although fairly detached from the game today, Pollard still has strong views, based on his experiences and obvious cricketing intelligence. His opinions on how he was captained are interesting.

He is fairly tough on captaincy. In his era, Graham Dowling was seen as a man of integrity. He captained Canterbury as well as New Zealand, but Pollard felt his captaincy was limited because of this experience. He had a fast attack that blasted people out, a bit like Clive Lloyd with West Indies. Pollard wouldn't rate Clive Lloyd as a great captain, because he didn't have to captain, he blasted the side out- "a kid could have captained them".

Lloyd had four quickies, he put four on before lunch, four on after lunch, put the spinner on three overs before tea and then put the four back on after tea and the side was out. Graham Dowling had Dick Motz, Bruce Taylor, and Gary Bartlett. At Lancaster Park "they'd knock sides over."

Pollard reflects "he [Dowling] was limited in handling spinners because he didn't have the experience. I could go into statistics on the tour when I was vice captain, that the spinners got wickets when I captained, but they didn't when he captained."

This may also have something to do with Pollard's lack of bowling success abroad. His 152 wickets in New Zealand cost him 26 each, while his 72 abroad were taken at over 40. Other reasons may have been his not flighting the ball along accepted lines. He was a quick off spinner, whose lack of height meant he lacked loop.

Despite this, Pollard was one of the few all-rounders playing test cricket during his era. He was the main spinner and a front line batsman. The main man in this category was the incomparable Gary Sobers, but Pollard's dynamism and complete dedication to the team at the expense of almost all, meant he was invaluable to the New Zealand team for the greater part of 10 years.

Pollard's strengths, his fitness, speed and purpose in the field, his fighting strokeplay and assertive bowling would have lent themselves to the one day game. Indeed, in New Zealand's first one day international series in Britain, in 1973, Pollard won 125 pounds as New Zealand player of the series (he thinks it was shared amongst the team). Pollard was ahead of his time in terms of improvising and fielding, as well as working out the angles and strategies required to succeed in the one day game. In that he was like J.R. Reid, of whom it is often said that he would have been a great one day player.

Another of Pollard's strengths was his durability. It amazes him that, with the sports physios they have now players still break down. On the 1965 tour the team were away for five and a half months. In India and Pakistan they played seven test matches almost in a row. Without a break they hit Britain.

Pollard was the all-rounder in the squad so he played almost every game. They would play Saturday, Sunday off, Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, travel Tuesday night, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, travel Friday night, back to Saturday. They had four fast bowlers. They played three a game with one off, and they didn't get injured. Pollard is at a loss to explain New Zealand's current injury crisis.

"I'm sure the game has not really changed in terms of demands on the body. I mean a bowler's a bowler. I don't know what it is. They're probably more fussy -they're pros, its their job and career. If they get a twinge they've got to get it fixed, when we tended to play on. I didn't know what a pulled muscle was! In 10 years of playing soccer and cricket, continously, as an amateur admittedly, I think I missed one soccer game, I never missed a game of cricket. No answer to that."

Comparing the game of his time to the game today, Pollard believes he played in a strong era. In the 60's and early 70's Pollard feels the England side then had to be better than the England side now. "If you got anybody to pick the best hundred players of the last 50 years or 100 years, I wonder if any of the present side would get in. I would say the England side I played against would provide five or six players, when you've got Trueman, Statham, Barrington, Cowdrey, Edrich, Boycott. How many players have England got like that currently?"

He thinks New Zealand is still suffering from the Howarth regime, when they went to South Africa and they had "that druggie thing-" the Paarl incident. Pollard believes they lacked a senior pro or two, who were hardnosed, disciplined, and could role model. He thinks a test team needs a culture to go into, a bit like the All Blacks always had, but which I think they may be losing, a culture so the team is bigger than you, and you had to fit into.

"When I joined the team the captain was Mr. Reid, and that wasn't 150 years ago! I'm not saying that's great and right, but I think a lot of these guys haven't had that and they've never quite recovered from it and I still don't think they've got the disciplines they should have had, just through those tough-nosed older pros."

New Zealand brought in Glenn Turner, who Pollard had watched as an extraordinarily self contained young player in the '60's for Otago, to provide some renewed professionalism to the team.

Meanwhile, Pollard was happily coaching the 1st XI at Middleton Grange School, having had to turn his back on first playing, then a promising coaching career, when he achieved success with the New Zealand Youth team in Australia in the 70's, guiding captain Jeff Crowe and a team of future stars. But not on Sunday, of course, when the youngsters tended to struggle without Vic's prescence.. So Pollard could have contributed even more to New Zealand cricket, perhaps in some of the roles Turner took.

"Turner got a tough deal. Because I think he's a real pro. Be too pro-ish, you can lose your flair, English pros don't take risks. English pros, they work out their odds. If there's a 90% chance they go for that they won't risk the 10 and there's a place now and again to go for the 10%, and it comes off sometimes. But you've got to know just when."

Perhaps Pollard did know just when to get out, to concentrate on what really matters.