Monday, 7 October 2013

Peter Pollock - Still Finding The Edge

Peter Pollock
Peter Pollock is one of life's enduring hard men.

At 72, he still delivers his message straight and to the point, just as he did as a player in the 1960's and as a selector of South African sides during the first ten years after being invited back to the international arena.

His father was a Scot from Edinburgh, a place where they make them tough and smart, emigrating to South Africa before his sons were born. Andrew Pollock was a wicketkeeper and left handed batsman who played some first class cricket for Orange Free State. His sons, Peter and the younger and perhaps more celebrated Graeme, played their cricket in the hard fashion of all South Africans, leading with their jaw and with no ground taken from them without the hardest of fights.

In Australia, we talk of back yard cricket mostly with nostalgia, for there are few suburban battles fought these days: our youth no longer thriving on their own devices but rather gaining their smarts from phones and their play from stations. Such was the pride we had in the egalitarian notion that the yellow brick road to the Baggy Green cap started between the petunias and the Hills Hoist, that Steve Cannane devoted a book to its proof. In First Tests (2009), he described how the varied surfaces and circumstances of great Australians and their cricket kindergartens, shaped batting styles and developed bowling stamina. From Trumper to Lee and with Bradman's legendary water tank, golf ball and stump at it's centre, the eccentric sought to undo the electronic.

It can't.

Of Cannane's tales, the fierce, uncompromising battles between the Chappell brothers resonates across time and the Indian Ocean to a Port Elizabeth back yard of the 1950's, where Peter Pollock was forced by the disadvantage of being an older brother, to spend hours bowling to the left handed Graeme. Each time he drew a false stroke from the boy who would become one of the best batsmen of his generation, argument would escalate over whether the ball had carried to the flower bed or grazed the tree stump fielder. Mamma, drawn into umpire the dispute from the safe distance of the kitchen, would always side with the younger sibling. Worse, when Graeme lost a stump and found his innings irretrievable, he would storm off and the game ended.

Graeme became the batsman and Peter, through volume of practice, the bowler.

Neither brother played enough Tests during a time when enough Tests were not played and by the time they had gone to England and beaten their hosts in 1965- "that way they couldn't complain about the umpiring" -  and then twice beaten the Australians in South Africa, the Pollock brothers were in the best team in the world. The 1965 triumph swung on the win at Trent bridge when Peter took ten wickets and Graeme made a peerless first innings hundred and fifty in the second innings. Wisden rewarded Peter as cricketer of the year in 1965 and Graeme in 1966.

Then it all ended with banishment, when the world, tired of the human rights abuses of white South African politics, removed them. The naivety of cricket officials claiming sport and politics had no right to be mixed ignored realities and the protests of South African cricketers were hypocritical. Coloured cricketers were only encouraged into the game by way of gaining an ICC invitation back to the international arena and Ali Bacher's "rebel" tours demonstrated nothing more than a desire to look after South African interests regardless of the damage done to the countries players were drawn from.

Even today, fewer non-white cricketers are represented in their international teams by a percentage of either population or first class to international ratio.

Not that Australia can crow.

With son Shaun
Peter Pollock's story could have stopped there but it didn't. Much could be said of his ten years as a national selector as South Africa returned and built a substantial team which included a young twenty year old Jacques Kallis, who arrived without distinction in home series against England and Australia and eighteen years later needs only 250 runs to be second behind Tendulkar as the greatest run scorer of all time. Allan Donald, to be known internationally as "White Lightning", was another of his finds and one which also drew him his greatest public criticism as he campaigned to have Donald dropped toward the end of his career. None better though, was the selection of his own son Shaun, ultimately justified by such a weight of runs and wickets in all forms of the game that he rates fairly along side Sobers, Miller and Botham as one of the games greatest allrounders.

Not bad but despite all of the above paragraphs, its not the real story about Peter Pollock. You see, Pollock is a Christian. Not your theological, church driven type of Christian. In fact, the way he tells it, church has very little to do with being a Christian. As direct as his actions around the game of cricket have been, he goes arrow straight to the heart of the matter.

When he talks of his faith, he talks of Jesus. In fact, as he often says, "its all about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus". He wants listeners to understand - whether they be in casual conversation man to man or as part of 160 who come to hear him over dinner - that they have to "know" Jesus, to have a personal relationship with him and change in their lives will be inevitable. He tells stories - they like to call them testimonies in religious circles - about friends who have been changed by their willingness to shift the priority from self to a belief in this Jewish man who is the subject of 2000 year old stories. According to Pollock, its not enough to know about Jesus, you have to know him. Knowing about him is listening to the stories. To know him, you have to get in close.

For most of us, we'd consider that easier said than done. In the comfort of technological advancement and a standard of living which is obscene in comparison to the third world, everything else in out lives seems more important than what this grandson of Scotland's former leading Presbyterian is imploring.

We've all heard the message before but its doubtful it has ever been told in a more compelling fashion or with more conviction. If Pollock is a passionate South African, if he was a driven competitor, if he has been a man in sporting and business life who has risen to the very top, then it doesn't show in comparison to his belief. After 32 years involved in ministry, he shows little signs of slowing down or backing off in his message.

"There is nothing else worth saying," he says.

Peter Pollock presented international batsmen with an enormous challenge in his role as the fastest and best bowler of his type in the 1960's but the challenge he presents now is harder, more direct and in his mind, far more important.

You'll certainly never hear it in plainer language.