The emperor reigns at Kingsmead

Batting with the prodigiously talented young Barry Richards at Kingsmead in 1970, Graeme Pollock stepped up his game; the Aussies barely survived to tell the tale

Interviews by Nagraj Gollapudi  |  

When Bill Lawry's Australians landed at Jan Smuts airport in Johannesburg in 1970, Alan McGilvray, the late ABC Radio commentator, described them as looking "haggard". The Australians had arrived on the back of an energy-sapping 3-1 series victory in India. They had agreed to the South African tour at the last minute after the MCC tour of 1969 was disallowed by John Vorster's South African government.

It was South Africa's first Test series in three years, and it turned out to be their last for two decades, after world cricket boycotted them due to the apartheid regime in the country. But they went out on a high, decimating the Australians 4-0. Among the South Africans who made headlines in that series was the left-hand genius Graeme Pollock. His 274 at Kingsmead was the highest score by a South African at the time and remains one of the most dominant innings played in Test cricket. It lasted 417 breathtaking minutes, during which he scored 172 runs in boundaries.

Graeme Pollock: determined not to give it away

Graeme Pollock: determined not to give it away © Getty Images

Ali Bacher, the South Africa captain, asked Lawry if he was fine with an early toss at Kingsmead. The two walked out, sans umpires, and South Africa elected to bat after Bacher called correctly. The Australians were bemused to see the curator cut the grass after the toss

Ali Bacher It was a beautiful day, hardly any wind, no chance of rain, with a very fast outfield. There was a controversy surrounding the toss, especially in the Australia camp. A load of rubbish. There was huge excitement in Durban after our win in the first Test. I told Bill, "Do you mind if we toss early? Let us get the crowds in and get the excitement going." And he agreed. Having won the toss, I elected to bat.

In those days the main pavilion was at the west side of the stadium. The dressing rooms were on the top floor and the umpires were on the ground floor. The officials' change rooms did not have any view of the ground and hence they did not know what was happening. By the time the umpires came out, they were unaware we had already done the toss. It was about 40 minutes before the scheduled start of play. According to the laws of the game, the curator could still do his final cut of the grass on the pitch half an hour before the game started. The curator just did that. So there was no conniving or manipulation on our part.

Ian Chappell, Australia batsman The toss did not play a role in the final result but I was really pissed off with Ali Bacher. He did three things in that series which really annoyed the hell out of me. One of them was when he came in and asked Bill to toss early. That was definitely underhanded. When you go out to toss the coin, you look at the pitch as the one you have got to play on. And that was not the case, because Ali won the toss and decided to bat and then they came out and mowed the pitch. When Bill came back into the changing room he said we were bowling and he did not mind it actually, because there was a bit of grass on the track. Now that could be within the laws but it was not impressive.

Things did not get better for the Australians: Barry Richards' spectacular batting lit up the morning session where he fell six short of completing a century before lunch.

Chappell It was Barry's home ground, so the entire stadium was buzzing with the name Richards. He could have very well got his hundred before lunch, except Bill undid his bootlaces and did them up again and wasted a little bit of time.

Bacher At about ten to one, I sensed Barry was on the verge of creating history by scoring a century before lunch. He was six runs short. So in an attempt to give him the strike I rushed out of the crease against [Alan] Connolly and was duly bowled.

After the break Richards strode in with Graeme Pollock. Both men played virtuoso knocks, piling up 103 runs in the first hour of the afternoon session.

Paul Sheahan, Australia batsman I dropped Barry Richards in the covers off Johnny Gleeson when he was on 94, at the cusp of lunch. Then out strode Graeme Pollock and Richards. I don't think I've ever seen batting like Pollock's. He seemed to be saying implicitly: "You have seen the apprentice. Now look at the master."

Peter Pollock, South Africa bowler When Barry was eventually out, the poor shell-shocked Aussies stood and applauded Barry the whole way back to the pavilion. The next man in, [Eddie] Barlow, lasted a very short while, got back into the pavilion and simply declared, "After the Lord Mayor's show, there was no room for me out there. I was embarrassed. Those two have made a mockery of batting."

A couple of weeks before the Test series the Pollock brothers had lost their father, who had been worried about his son Graeme not getting big scores.

Peter Pollock "You are not making the big scores. Top players get double and treble centuries!" he thought about Graeme.

Graeme Pollock He [his father] had always said to me that if you want to be rated as a good player, you have got to get good scores. That was always in the back of my mind, not to give it away throughout that innings in honour of him and his support. It was always there and kept me going.

Pollock finished the first day on 160 not out. He returned the next morning to break multiple records

Graeme Pollock I had got a 209 in 1966-67 against Australia on a similar kind of track. I was never a person to give it away. The outfield was quick, but I never attempted to hit the ball over anybody's head. Bill Lawry had said I was the best player of a bad ball, and I cashed in on them. We were playing every two or three years, so when you got an opportunity you made most of it.

"Graeme had watched Barry bat supremely. He saw the centre stage was taken. Being a great batsman he would never say it, but I could sense him thinking aloud to himself, 'That is great batting. I could do the same if not better'" Ali Bacher

Eddie Barlow, South Africa allrounder At one stage, Graham McKenzie put four players in the covers, but Graeme stroked the ball past them with ease. Next, Lawry gave [Eric] Freeman a 7-2 field, but Graeme still thundered the ball past extra cover, with the minimum backlift and follow-through, and maximum power.

Graham McKenzie. Australia fast bowler As he got older, he became much more susceptible early on in his innings. So that was our plan - to try to get him early on. He started a little slower, as Barry was still around, but then he just got better and better as he went on, and then he completely dominated.

Sheahan Nothing troubled him. Bill was trying desperately to plug gaps but it did not matter to Pollock, who kept finding the gaps. Late in the day McKenzie was bowling without a slip. Here was one of the great fast bowlers of the era trying hard. There were four fieldsmen on the off side, trying desperately to stop drives that were splitting the gaps and racing away to the fence. I don't think I am imagining this, but some of those drives hit the pickets so quickly and bounced back almost to where you were fielding, so you did not need to run too far to get the damn thing.

Even as others sensed Pollock's hunger, he admitted he was "under pressure".

Chappell I remember telling Stacky [Keith Stackpole], who was standing next to me at second slip: "We've got a problem here, mate. This bastard [pointing to Pollock] is going to see how many Barry gets and then he is going to double it." Pollock just had the look about him. Whilst he was a quietish and laidback character, I also knew he was very, very determined and had a lot of pride about his play.

Bacher Graeme had watched Barry bat supremely. He saw the centre stage was taken by an emerging, strong Barry Richards. Being a great batsman, he would never say it, but I could sense him thinking aloud to himself: "That is great batting. I could do the same if not better." So, in many ways, Barry's performance motivated Graeme further, but he was very dignified. Great players compete against each to raise their own performance. That is what happened at Kingsmead in that Test.

Graeme Pollock I must agree that I was under pressure. Barry had not played in the 1966-67 series [against Australia] and he was a great player who should have played three or four years earlier. I told myself: "Look, the guy can play and I've got to be at my best to keep up with him." He had set it up and I had to play well when I went in to bat. Fortunately it worked out that way, as Barry gave it away at 140 and I went on to finish the double-century.

Pollock's brilliance coupled with Richards' fireworks at the beginning completely flattened the visitors. McKenzie was listless. Only John Gleeson, the offbreak bowler, posed some tough questions for Pollock

Chappell The worse thing was to go from India to South Africa as the conditions were so contradictory: in India we played for nearly three months on slow, turning tracks and then suddenly we were playing on green, seaming tracks.

McKenzie On the eve of our departure to South Africa from India, I had been hit by a bout of diarrhoea. I never quite got over it completely and I was not at my best. We were really looking forward to playing against South Africa, who were such a good team. I had gone wicketless in the first two Tests. I just struggled the whole tour. In today's times I would have been rested.

John Gleeson He is the second-best batsman I bowled against after Barry Richards. He did not use his feet too much, but he played it off the pitch. His stance was fairly wide apart and he moved a few inches forward or a few inches back and hit it fairly hard.

I certainly could not control him, but Graeme never took me apart. All he did was take a two or a four and then he would get one off the last ball. He is the best exponent of that. He could count to six (balls in an over).

Our fielding was relatively poor and about 12 catches were dropped off my bowling in that series. I bowled him round the wicket once and had him stumped but it was called a no-ball.

Graeme Pollock Gleeson was a really good bowler and underestimated. He bowled a lot of overs and I could read him 90% of the time. My plan was to wait for the really bad balls. I know Barry said that he could read him, but there was an element of doubt about reading his hand.

The next year Gleeson came over and played for the Eastern Province. I was standing in the slips all day, where I could concentrate, and only then I could read him. But when we played him in 1970 nobody had seen Gleeson. The first time he bowled was in the first Test in Cape Town. Ali tried to sweep the first five balls and missed all of them. Nobody had a clue how to work him out initially.

I noticed he was not a big turner of the ball. He was mostly using his little finger. So I used to go really forward and cover it. Probably he thought I could read him and after sometime he settled in to bowl orthodox offspin against me.

Pollock's partnership of 200 runs for the sixth wicket with Tiger Lance was a team record. South Africa's 622 for 9 was their highest total at the time.

Graeme Pollock is congratulated by Dudley Nourse after his record-breaking innings

Graeme Pollock is congratulated by Dudley Nourse after his record-breaking innings © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Graeme Pollock In hindsight it was the last series South Africa would play. While 274 is seen as a great score, I was sorry that I gave it away. I thought we were going to declare at the drinks break, which was round the corner before I got out. But we batted an extra hour. The funny thing was: I was scoring at the rate of 40 runs an hour and I could have probably got my 300. It was 80 after the first hour, 160 at the end of the day's play, 240 at lunch on day two.

We were around the 600-mark and the drinks were round the corner and I thought it was an opportune time to declare. I had broken Jackie McGlew's record for the highest Test score by a South African batsman [255]. Looking back, I would have liked to end up on 340 against my name rather than 274. That is the yardstick. Those were yardsticks - you had to get 300 to be called a good player. You just have to go that extra mile.

Australia were forced to follow on by a lethal South African bowling attack. Though they were more resolute in the second innings, they could not last long

Chappell We got out. We were just mentally fatigued.

Sheahan We had the best part of three trying months, weather-wise, in India. Then we hit the land of milk and honey - South Africa. South Africa had made us stand for a long time in the field in Durban. If you get knocked over easily, it takes a lot of stoic resistance, particularly on a wearing pitch, to bounce back. We were weary and fairly dispirited. And things got worse as the tour went on.

Gleeson You never bowl on your own. You bowl in pairs. In South Africa we were struggling with our quick bowling. McKenzie got three wickets for 300 or something. Everyone seemed to blame the Indian tour, but the South Africans were good.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. Eddie Barlow's quotes from Eddie Barlow - The Autoboigraphy (Eddie Barlow, Tafelberg Publishers Ltd, 2006), and Peter Pollock's quotes from God's Fast Bowler (Peter Pollock, Christian Art Books, 2002)