The Surrey champion Pat Pocock was born on September 24, 1946. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a classical off-spinner who probably enjoyed the sport a bit too much to be successful.
It was a tense day at Eastbourne: Sussex had responded to Surrey’s 300 for four with 226 for five. Micky Stewart left the hosts to chase a steep 205 in 44 overs to pull off a victory. After Peter Graves had fallen to Robin Jackman early in the innings, Geoff Greenidge and Roger Prideaux got together and took the score to 187 for one.
Sussex needed 18 from three overs with nine wickets in hand. Jackman had been seen off, and Intikhab Alam had been blunted. Prideaux, having scored 106 not out in the first innings, looked set for another hundred with 92 against his name.
It was under these circumstances that Stewart threw the ball to his off-spinner Patrick Ian Pocock, raising quite a few eyebrows. Pocock had so far been carted around by Greenidge and Prideaux, and had returned figures of 14-1-63-0. It seemed that Stewart had erred for the second time in the day.
Beyond all expectations Pocock clean bowled Greenidge with the first ball of the over: the ball simply rushed through the ‘gate’. Mike Griffith sent out the all-rounder Mike Buss, possibly to provide some acceleration. Buss kept the first ball out.
The off-break sped through the gate again as Buss walked back to the pavilion: Pocock had picked up two in three, and suddenly the game did not look as one-sided as it had seemed to be. Sussex needed 15 from 18 now as Jim Parks walked out.
Parks obtained a brace from the first ball; he kept out the next; then, with the intent to reduce the gap he tried to shift gears, only managing to hit one back to the bowler. Pocock had just managed to pick up three wickets for two runs in an over. His figures read 15-1-65-3. Griffith walked out himself.
Prideaux was still there, and 16 from 12 was certainly gettable. Prideaux hit Jackman for four, and then the batsmen managed a single. Griffith saw through the first one, but made an almighty heave at the next: he missed. He connected the next one which soared over the fence for a six.
Jackman looked disconcerted. He managed to finish with a dot ball, but with five required from six balls with six wickets in hand it was clearly Sussex’s game from here.
Pocock again. For whatever reason Prideaux tried to finish off things with a big one; Jackman at long-on somehow managed to hold on to an outstanding catch; Prideaux would not get his second ton of the match. What was more, Pocock was on a hat-trick.
Five runs, five balls, five wickets. The batsmen had crossed. Griffith attempted a heave, but the ball took the edge and flew to Roy Lewis. Pocock had conjured a hat-trick out of nowhere to shift the balance of the match once again.
Five runs, four balls, four wickets. Tony Buss, brother of Mike, walked out to join Jeremy Morley. The batsmen had crossed yet again. Pocock ran in, and Morley, stepping out to finish things with a six, missed the ball; Arnold Long did the rest behind the stumps. Pocock had picked up four wickets in four balls (equalling a world record).
Five runs, three balls, three wickets. Then the unthinkable happened as Pocock did not pick up a wicket; John Spencer managed to pick up a single. Sussex could not lose now unless somebody got stumped off a wide or run out off a no-ball.
Four runs, two balls, three wickets. Pocock clean bowled Tony Buss; he had five wickets in six balls now, equalling the record held by Bill Copson and William Henderson. He had also created two more world records by picking up six wickets in nine balls (he went past George Nash’s six in 11) and seven wickets in 11 (overhauling Hedley Verity’s seven in 15).
Four runs, one ball, two wickets. Uday Joshi hit one to the leg, scampered for one, and risked a two, possibly in anticipation of overthrows; the ball came back straight to Pocock who removed the bails. Joshi was run out, and the match — despite all its excitement — had ended in a draw. Pocock finished with 16-1-67-7, and his last two overs had amounted to 2-0-4-7.
Even if Pat Pocock had done nothing else of note, his name would have been etched in the annals of First-Class cricket forever. He was a fantastic bowler, though. A Surrey stalwart, Pocock picked up 1,607 wickets from 554 First-Class matches at 26.53 with 60 five-fors and seven ten-fors.
He was an off-spinner in the classical mould: ran in with a side-on action, had managed to master the art of flight despite a 6’1″ frame, could turn the ball prodigiously, and believed in luring the batsmen to make them commit errors. He compromised on accuracy and often ended up conceding more runs than was needed.
In If the Cap Fits Colin Bateman wrote of him: “The selectors never really trusted Pat Pocock, although he was one of the most authentic spin bowlers of his generation. Pocock’s action was textbook high; he spun the ball, varied his angles, and had a sweet loop.”
In an era when England was in perpetual need for a spinner who could hold one end up and play a foil to their fast bowlers ‘Percy’ was often left out in favour of the likes of the more miserly John Emburey. It did not help that Pocock was almost a non-batsman, and even that is an overstatement. He scored only three First-Class fifties from 585 innings.
The Test career was rather pedestrian: from 25 Tests, Pocock managed only 67 wickets at 44.41 with three five-fors. A strike rate of 99.2 and an economy rate of 2.68 (Emburey had 2.20) did not help his cause either. He was a great strategist, always bubbling with ideas, Pocock often wanted to chip in with thoughts, especially when the batsmen dominated the match.
Pocock was born in the Welsh town of Bangor, Caernarvonshire. He studied in the Merton C of E Secondary School before moving to Wimbledon Technical College. He made it to Surrey Second XI at an age of 16, and impressed the selectors with a haul of six for 43 against Essex Second XI at The Oval.
He made his First-Class debut the next season against Cambridge University at The Oval; he picked up two for 53 and four for 24 to pull off a narrow 36-run victory; in his next match against Northamptonshire at the same ground, Pocock had figures of three for 68 and three for 44.
He did not get a five-for in his first two seasons, but 33 wickets at 21.15 and 30 wickets at 26.60 were excellent figures for a teenage off-spinner. His best, however, was yet to come.
Pocock did not get a bowl in the first innings against Sussex at The Oval in 1966; however, after Surrey obtained a lead of 61 he bowled out Sussex almost single-handedly with figures of seven for 58. The tourists collapsed to 102, paving way for an easy victory for Surrey. It was Pocock’s first five-for.
A few days later he picked up four for 46 and six for 38 against Bath, but could not prevent Somerset from chasing down 98; the 10 for 84 became his first ten-for. Towards the end of the season he routed Middlesex for 95 with figures of six for 43 at Lord’s. His 81 wickets at 21.97 from 28 matches were good enough to win him a spot on the Pakistan tour for the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) Under-25s.
From six matches on the tour, Pocock picked up 31 wickets at 20.29, finishing at the top of the bowling charts, both in wickets and average; the side had included future stars like Geoff Arnold, and more significantly, Derek Underwood.
Summer of ’67
Pocock won his Surrey cap the next season. He was pitted against an international side for the first time when Surrey took on the touring Indians; the tourists, despite their reputation of handling spin, were bowled out by Pocock (four for 60 and five for 59) and lost by eight wickets.
A few days later Pocock improved upon his best match figures, picking up seven for 72 and four for 43 against Worcestershire at The Oval. Pocock had the best season of his career that year with 112 wickets at 18.22 with seven five-fors and two ten-fors. The 21-year old was selected for the West Indies tour that winter as an understudy to Fred Titmus.
Things were going normally on the West Indies tour; Titmus played the Tests while Pocock was restricted to the tour matches. The first two Tests at Queen’s Park Oval and Sabina Park were drawn.
The teams moved to Barbados for the third Test when it happened: Titmus was swimming when his foot got caught in the propeller of a boat; four of his toes had to be chopped off. With Pocock picking up five for 84 against Barbados he was a certainty for the third Test.
It is rumoured that Pocock had asked John Woodcock for a copy of the Wisden just before the Test to look at the Test records of his predecessors.
That night there was a rap on the door of John Woodcock’s hotel room. Putting his head round the door was Pocock.
Pocock: Do you have a Wisden?
As Woodcock wrote, “It was of course to look up the records of all great off-spinners in Test history.” It did not matter. Pocock had an ordinary Test, picking up the wickets of Clive Lloyd in the first innings and Deryck Murray in the second.
He was dropped for the next Test at Queen’s Park Oval where Garry Sobers’ folly cost West Indies the Test. With England requiring only a draw to save the Test at Bourda, they were eight down with 17 minutes left; Pocock batted out 12 minutes and Jeff Jones the rest to provide Alan Knott the support he needed to secure the series. Pocock also picked up three wickets in the Test.
In the first innings at Bourda, Pocock found himself in a queer partnership with Tony Lock. Lock scored 57 with Pocock remaining on zero as the score reached 67; in the first half-an-hour, Lock allowed Pocock to face only four balls in the first ten overs of the partnership.
Pocock did not score until his 62nd ball, and eventually batted out 129 minutes to help Lock add 108. He eventually scored a 103-ball 13.
The mysterious axing
Pocock was selected for the first Test at Old Trafford next season; after Australia led by 192, Pocock bowled brilliantly, eating up the Australian middle-order with figures of six for 79 to rout them for 220. England, however, lost the Test by 159 runs (though they levelled the series in the last Test at The Oval). It would remain Pocock’s best figures in Test cricket.
After the performance, however, Pocock was axed from the England side; Underwood was drafted in. Pocock would play a single Test at Lahore next year and would not play another in almost four years. He continued to perform for Surrey in the Championship, playing a key role for them season after season.
He picked up the first hat-trick of his career when he dismissed Alan Omrod, Ted Hemsley, and Jim Yardley (all caught) against Worcestershire at Guildford in 1971. Pocock also had a brief stint for Northern Transvaal that winter. He picked up 33 wickets from six matches, including five for 52 and three for 80 against Border at Pretoria.
The first comeback
Soon after the historic spell of 2-0-4-7 (mentioned above) Pocock was selected for the India tour that winter — possibly because England needed an extra spinner. England went into the first Test at Delhi with three spinners — Underwood, Pocock, and Tony Greig.
Though he went wicket-less in the first innings, Pocock played a key role in the second. England had acquired a 27-run lead but India were cruising comfortably at 82 for two; it was then that Pocock sent down one that broke too much, beat Ajit Wadekar’s bat, and had him stumped. India never recovered, Pocock picked up three for 72, and England won by six wickets.
After Bishan Bedi and Bhagwath Chandrasekhar snatched an incredible win at Calcutta, the teams went to Madras for the third Test. Tony Lewis won the toss and batted first before Chandrasekhar bowled them out for 242. Pocock then bowled a marathon spell of 46-15-114-4, accounting for Wadekar, ‘Tiger’ Pataudi, Gundappa Viswanath, and Eknath Solkar. India obtained a lead of 74.
This time it was Bedi and EAS Prasanna who bowled out England for 159. Chasing 89 for a victory, India received the first jolt from Chris Old, who removed Farokh Engineer and Wadekar in the space of three balls. It was then that Pocock struck, having Chetan Chauhan caught behind. Viswanath was bowled next ball: India were 51 for four, and there was a match on the cards.
Salim Durani and Pataudi then used all their experience to push India towards victory. Pocock trapped Durani leg-before (though not before The Prince hit two sixes off him) with only 22 runs left, and 11 runs later he had Solkar out caught as well. Pataudi was still there, and India finally found a saviour in Sunil Gavaskar, who walked out at eight despite a finger injury.
Pocock finished with 13-3-28-4, but could not prevent the defeat. The next two Tests were drawn, which meant that England had lost the series 2-1. Pocock had 14 wickets at 29.28. The next series in Pakistan had three draws, but Pocock had a marathon haul of five for 169 in Pakistan’s innings of 569 for nine, but that was about it.
Playing at Queen’s Park Oval next season he had another marathon spell of five for 110; however, a collapse triggered by Keith Boyce in the first innings led to an easy victory for West Indies. The rest of the series did not go as expected, and Pocock was sidelined for two more years.
The second comeback
The West Indians came over to England for the famous ‘grovel’ series. Pocock’s initial reaction at Greig’s comment was “You prat… what have you done? You don’t do that sort of thing, winding them up for no reason.”
He played two Tests in the series — at Lord’s and Old Trafford. Four wickets at 43.25 did not do any good to his cause, and he was dropped — this time for a rather long period of time.
Pocock had his benefit season for Surrey in 1977 — adding £18,500 to his wallet that year. He was still only 31, but it seemed that his playing days were over. He continued to pick up wickets in Championship cricket, waiting for a call — but was probably abandoning hope with every passing season.
Two of his best performances came in 1979. He had gone wicket-less in the first innings against Glamorgan at Cardiff, but after Surrey acquired a 104-run lead he came to his elements. From 49 for one, Glamorgan folded for 140 with Pocock picking up a career-best nine for 57.
A few days later, Pocock picked up eight for 61 against Hampshire at Portsmouth; once again Surrey managed a 96-run lead, and once again Pocock bowled out Hampshire for 157, this time picking up five for 61.
The third and most unexpected comeback
England were caught in the midst of a blackwash at home and Pocock was in sublime form with the ball in 1984. Pocock picked up seven for 74 and three for 93 against Lancashire at Old Trafford; then, after a five for 43 against Derbyshire at The Oval, Pocock earned a surprise recall.
It was the same West Indies — with many familiar faces. It was the same Old Trafford. It was just that eight years had elapsed and Pocock had missed 86 Tests. This put him third on the list after Derek Shackleton (103) and Les Jackson (96). In subsequent years they have been emulated by Martin Bicknell (114), Floyd Reifer (109), and Younis Ahmed (104).
To his credit, Pocock did an excellent job: the 38-year old proved himself in a test of endurance, sending down 45.3 overs and finishing with four for 121. However, West Indies amassed 500 and won by an innings and 64 runs. He bowled only eight overs in the last Test at The Oval, where England lost again. In the Lord’s Test against Sri Lanka later that season, Pocock picked up three more wickets. He was picked for the India tour that winter. After having scored registered two pairs against West Indies he was heartily congratulated by Allan Lamb mid-pitch on scoring his first international run of the season.
The last tour
India won the first Test at Bombay quite easily; Pocock picked up three for 133, but was thwarted by the Indian batsmen. He turned things around at Delhi, accounting for Anshuman Gaekwad, Mohinder Amarnath, and Ravi Shastri, and finishing with three for 70.
After England acquired a 111-run lead, Pocock was back in business again, this time in tandem with Phil Edmonds; Pocock clean bowled Gavaskar and had Kapil Dev caught, and finished with four for 93; Edmonds also had four for 60. England won at a canter.
England eventually won the series 2-1, but Pocock managed only three wickets from the last three Tests. He finished with 13 wickets at 50.38 and was dropped for good.
Pocock played for Surrey for two more seasons, bowling sporadically and picking up 78 wickets from 45 matches. He was appointed the captain of the Club in his final season (1986) which also turned out to be his testimonial season.
His last match — against Leicestershire at The Oval — was a rather unusual one: after two rain-affected days Pocock declared on the third morning with the score on 270 for four. Both Peter Willey and Pocock declared their innings, which meant that the visitors had to chase 271.
In an inspired spell, Pocock took out Laurie Potter, Phil DeFreitas, and Phillip Whitticase. Willey was the only one to offer some resistance; Pocock picked up three for 66; and Surrey won by 90 runs.
Pocock started Pat Pocock Associates [PPA] since 1977, which, according to their website, “is a network of professionals whose experience spans the spectrum of entertainment packaging, sporting events and corporate hospitality.” PPA’s network of personal contacts includes the likes of Garry Sobers, Ian Botham, Dickie Bird, Barry Richards, David Gower, Bob Willis, Mike Gatting, Derek Randall, David Lloyd, Allan Lamb, Alec Stewart, and Christopher Martin-Jenkins.
Of late he has taken up a job in the Committee at The Oval. He also blogs at the popular Pat Pocock’s Cricket Spin.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)