On this day 43 years ago, Graeme Pollock stroked his way to a majestic 274 against Australia at Durban. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the innings along with his magical partnership with Barry Richards on the first day of the Test match.
Those who saw Graeme Pollock score 274 that day were united in their firm conviction that no amount of political obstacles should obstruct a player of such supreme quality.
He toppled the then highest score ever made by a South African batsman. The previous day, when he had collaborated for an hour at the wicket with that batsman of staggering talent – Barry Richards – the crowd had witnessed a whirlwind of talent.
Richards, young, tall and elegant, saw the ball earlier and better than anyone else in the game, and used his wrists with grace and panache. Pollock was the more established, a classy left-hander with no discernible weakness, who could destroy pace and spin with equal élan.
On the opening day at Durban, Trevor Goddard fell to John Gleeson after a typical stodgy 17. Skipper Ali Bacher did not make too many, bowled by Alan Connolly at the stroke of lunch for nine. However, at the interval, the home team stood at 126 for two, Richards on 94.
Nine of the 80 First-Class hundreds scored by Barry Richards were reached before lunch. In this Test, he got there in the first over after the break, off just 116 balls.
The following hour saw him put on 103 with Graeme Pollock — the passage of play that bore the signature of South African dominance.
Richards, in only his second Test match, batted for three magical hours filled with beautiful drives and thrilling hooks. The only false shot in his effort ended the innings, when he swung at Eric Freeman with his head in the air to be bowled for 140. The innings had been studded with 20 fours and a six and had come off 164 balls. The score read 229 for three.
This sparkling talent would grace the Test scene only two more times, before South Africa would be boycotted into isolation. His aggregate at the end of this four Test career would stand at 508 runs at 72.57. Captain Bacher singled him out as: “The most complete batsman I have ever encountered.”
Graeme Pollock, however, continued the savage display for six more hours. Rodney Hartman, in The Wisden Cricketer, wrote: “Pollock was the broadsword to Richards’ rapier.” One of the first players to use a heavy bat, this left-handed run machine cover drove with imperious timing and by this stage of his career had developed a pull and on drive to counter his earlier inability to score on the leg-side. He continued to smash everything offered to him. His hundred was reached during the first hour of the final session, and by the end of the day he was unbeaten on 160.
The following morning, Pollock continued in the same vein. He reached his double hundred in just over five hours, and put on a record 200 for the sixth wicket with Tiger Lance, the tall and powerful all-rounder. His concentration did not waver even after that. Graham McKenzie, Connolly, Freeman and Gleeson were all pulverised to resignation before he hit an innocuous delivery from Keith Stackpole back to the bowler. His innings had been played in just three minutes short of seven hours, and contained 43 boundaries and one five.
Ali Bacher recalled: “There was one thing that was absolutely certain about Graeme. If you bowled a bad ball to him, it went for four.” Having watched the innings, Don Bradman simply said that Pollock was the best left handed batsman he had ever seen. This was high praise indeed from the greatest batsman of all time, moreover someone who had been enchanted by Arthur Morris, had seen Neil Harvey develop into his full bloom and had followed the career of Garry Sobers closely.
The total of 622 for nine declared improved on the maximum ever scored by the South African cricket team in their 170 Test history. And then Mike Procter, Peter Pollock and Eddie Barlow bowled them to a resounding innings win to go up 2-0 in the series.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)