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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.