For South African cricket fans a future without Shaun Pollock is one that fills many with dread. For a decade the red headed open bowler, and lower order batsman, has been the spearhead of the South African attack, as a strike bowler when he first came into the team, and as a miserly economic bowler, as the years have lessened his pace. The reality is that Pollock, as much as many would like to see, can’t go on forever, and the South African hierarchy have decided that this season will be used to assess Pollocks airs.
Pollock has responded to calls for his retirement time and time again, with wickets, a match winning economic spell, or some wonderful stroke play with the bat, yet even he knows that the time will soon come when he wont be the man called upon with either bat or ball by the South African captain. Pollock, who underwent minor foot surgery recently, has been left out of the squad that is playing in Ireland against the hosts and India. During the recent Afro/Asia series Pollock travelled as a batsman only, not bowling a single ball, and showed enough form and style to suggest that he could fashion a new role for himself in the team, as a batsman who bowls rather then as a bowler who bats. He scored his maiden ODI century and scored another undefeated 50 in the three match series. With Pollock resting back home in Durban, the South African selectors have called upon Cape Cobra’s young all rounder Vernon Philander to make his debut in place of Polly. Indeed coach MickeyArthur made no secret of the plans to blood Pollocks successor over the coming season
“We need succession planning in key areas to ensure we have a pool of
players who can play at this level. A guy like Shaun Pollock has given us yeoman
service, but he needs to be managed through this season and a couple of other
senior players do too,” Arthur said.
“We’ve identified Vernon Philander as a possible back-up as an
all-rounder, along with Albie Morkel, who played in the Afro/Asia Cup, and Ryan
McLaren and Johan van der Wath, who I’ve been keeping an eye on in county
The interesting aspect of these comments is that they see Pollocks replacement as being an all rounder, rather then as an opening bowler. While Pollock is a genuine all rounder, and maybe should have been used higher up the batting order throughout his career, something he would have preferred, his role in the team in both test and ODI cricket has been primarily as an opening bowler. Yet the selectors tend to talk of Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn as the future opening bowlers and Philander, Albie Morkel, McLaren and van der Wath, as Pollocks successor. This clearly shows that although Polly has rarely been used up the order, they realise that his batting brings a balance to the lineup that would be missing if he were to be replaced by a bowler.
The idea to give these all rounders increased exposure so as not to have to start from the beginning when they eventually take over has merit so long as the selectors don’t pigeon hole these players as Pollys replacement and exclude them for other jobs. A guy like Johan van der Wath could do a job as an opening bowler or first change, he swings the ball both ways, and as a devastating middle or lower order batsman, and should perhaps be in the team right now, alongside Polly. He is the man who should have come into the side when Klusner was left out and has been over looked for the last year. While there is potential in the other players, having them all compete for one place, and pushing someone like van der Wath down the pecking order, giving him limited exposure as they rotate these players, may be to the detriment of South African cricket.
The fact that, post World Cup, the selectors have an eye on the future, and wont be waiting until their hand is forced, suggests that South African cricket is looking forward, and while this can only benefit the team in the long run, lets hope the Pollock has a few more years left in him yet. South Africa’s star all rounder is far from finished.