Whenever there’s a conversation about the best allrounders of the noughties, the first two names that come to mind are usually Jacques Kallis and Andrew Flintoff. The two of them were, of course, two great players–in fact, statistically, you could argue that Kallis has a good case to be considered the greatest cricketer ever when you note down his achievements with bat, ball and in the field.
Another fine all-round cricketer from around the same period was Kallis’ international teammate Shaun Pollock. While Pollock is rightly considered as a world-class cricketer, doesn’t he deserve even more credit than he gets, especially as an allrounder?
Just compare his averages with that of Flintoff in Test cricket. Pollock averaged 32.31 with the bat and 23.11 with the ball in Tests. The corresponding numbers for Flintoff are 31.77 and 32.78. Pollock was quite clearly a better bowler than Flintoff and this is well known, but did you know that he had a better Test batting average than the Englishman too?
In Test cricket, there have been only 14 players who’ve scored 3000+ runs and taken 200+ wickets. Among them, only two have a batting average of over 25 and bowling average of below 25–Imran Khan, Sir Richard Hadlee and Pollock. That’s a pretty elite group to be a part of.
You increase the cut-off for batting average to 30 and then only Imran and Pollock remain. That’s right - in the history of Test cricket, only two players have scored 3000+ runs at an average of above 30 and taken 200+ wickets at an average of below 25, and one of them is Pollock.
When experts and fans debate the greatest bowling allrounders, the discussion usually revolves around the great quartet of the 1980s–Imran, Hadlee, Kapil Dev and Sir Ian Botham. Surely, Pollock is up there with them. Statistically, there is little question about his place among the zenith of bowling allrounders.
Perhaps, Pollock was a victim of his own success with the ball. He was such a supreme bowler that people often forget that he was a very handy batsman as well. But even as a fast bowler, you sometimes get the feeling that the South African deserves more credit than he gets.
Until a couple of years ago, Pollock was the highest wicket-taker in Tests for South Africa. He ended his career with 421 wickets at an average of 23.11. On the other hand, Steyn–who is the Proteas’ current top wicket-taker–secured 439 wickets at 22.95.
Unlike some other pacers, Pollock thrived even in conditions that didn’t favour pace bowling as well. This is supported by the fact that his Test bowling average in every country, apart from Australia, is less than 30. And he averaged less than 25 against every team he faced, apart from again Australia who had one of the greatest-ever Test sides during his playing career.
Seldom do away teams come to Asia and win a Test series, especially in India and Pakistan. And more times than not, pitches and conditions are not supportive for pace bowling. Despite this, Pollock was part of South African teams that won Test series in both the aforementioned Asian countries and he played a crucial part in both victories.
In 2000, he took nine wickets at an average of 14.77 in a two-Test series in India. It’s the only time South Africa have ever won a series there.
A couple of years earlier, he had also contributed greatly to Proteas’ Test series win in Pakistan. While he was superb with the ball–10 wickets at an average of 23.20–he was in top form with the bat as well during that series, scoring 156 runs at over 50 per dismissal.
While Pollock’s bowling stats are comparable to Steyn, his Test career batting average of 32.31 is close to those of Hansie Cronje (36.41), Jonty Rhodes (35.66) and Jacques Rudolph (35.43)–he scored more Test runs than the three of them too. Yes, Pollock did play many more Tests than them, but it’s important to remember that he wasn’t playing as a front-line batsman.
It’s been over 12 years since Pollock retired from international cricket and he is still to be inducted into the International Cricket Council (ICC) Hall of Fame. His induction, of course, is just a matter of time, but a player who had such a colossal all-round career–the only cricketer to score 7000+ runs and take 700+ wickets in international cricket–shouldn’t have to wait this long.