Keeping the promise

Obviously, Jemma Pollock had decided that supermarkets were all the same: boring. Even supermarkets in Barbados. She seemed to reach this decision just as she toddled around a corner - as toddlers are wont to do - and stared at a shelf of instant coffee straight in the labels.

Enough of all this endless roaming around aisle after aisle after aisle. Quietly, she sat down and clasped her tired little arms around her knees. "Where are you?" Shaun Pollock asked, his question significantly more tender than his "Howzat!" on cricket grounds around the world. Father and daughter were soon reunited, and once he had gently prised her off the floor the shopping trip continued with a promise that it was near its end.

The promise was duly kept, and in a few minutes the Pollocks, including wife and mother Trish, re-emerged into the sultry sunshine and contemplated another day on South Africa's tour to the West Indies last year.

The moment captured the essence of Shaun Pollock, master bowler, better than the milestone of 400 test wickets he reached against India at the Wanderers on Saturday. For the past 11 years, cricket-minded South Africans have been able to count on Pollock to think of everything that needed to be done, and to do more than his fair share. (For Shaun's sake, and for the sake of the hoped-for length of this metaphor, let's not ask Trish about that!)

The nation came to this realisation during South Africa's tour to Australia in 1997-98, when the most remarkable aspects to Pollock were his blazing red air, those randomly splattered freckles, and a father and an uncle who could play a bit. South Africa were striving to draw the Test series. All they needed was a win in Adelaide. Probable? No. Possible? Certainly. Until, that is Allan Donald, pulled out of the match with an injury.

'C'mon Polly.' Few exhortations can surely have been more widely uttered, and in each of our 11 official languages, in this land of hard-minded, tough-hearted people who appreciate honest toil above all else

The game was Pollock's 16th Test. By then he had proved his worth, but he had yet to establish himself as the bowler of heart, brain, body and spirit in equal measure that we have come to know him as. Pollock toiled for 30 overs under Adelaide's unforgiving sun in the first innings, and his reward was seven wickets. He took two more wickets in the second innings, and while South Africa did not win we knew then that while Pollock might look like a teenaged giraffe he was every inch a man.

That was still true after tea on Saturday when Rahul Dravid dabbed half-heartedly at a delivery pitched on the line of his off-stump. Mark Boucher took the catch, and time stood still for a long moment as the Wanderers rang with appreciation. "C'mon Polly." Few exhortations can surely have been more widely uttered, and in each of our 11 official languages, in this land of hard-minded, tough-hearted people who appreciate honest toil above all else.

We keep telling Polly to "c'mon" because he delivers on the promise we can see in every pace of his run-up, every gather, every steepled front arm, every liquid sweep of his bowling arm, and every hopscotching follow-through. Then he turns around, hitches his shirt off his shoulder, and walks back to do it again.

Consistency. To some it's "the last refuge of the unimaginative". To Trojans, like Pollock, it's the glue that holds careers together. And guts. Never was Pollock's resolve more tangible than at the press conference that was called after he was fired as South Africa's captain. This came, remember, in the wake of the host nation's shambolic exit from the 2003 World Cup. A dressing-room full of coaches, managers and assorted flunkies failed to read a Duckworth/Lewis sheet properly and the resultant tie with Sri Lanka on a wet night in Durban saw South Africa jettisoned from the tournament after the first round.

Was that Pollock's fault? Of course not. He was asked to resign and quite rightly refused. When the moment came to talk to the media about the end of his tenure, Pollock sat quietly at a table at Kingsmead taking notes while the photographers hit the shutter button furiously, even as the reporters ensured their microphones weren't pointed at the floor.

There wasn't a United Cricket Board logo in sight, nor those of any of their sponsors. Pollock himself was devoid of any indication that he was an international cricketer. Once we had composed ourselves he answered our questions in his usual factual manner, and life went on.

Pollock seemed to be telling us that cricket was, as we should all know, a mere game, and that there are more important aspects to life. Jemma would no doubt agree, especially when she needs Dad to help her get through a tough day.