CW Specials: My Close Encounters with Cricketing Greats – Part VIII: Kersi Meher-Homji
Before bribery and corruption in cricket came out in the open it was easy to enter the players’ Dressing Room. During the tour of the Rest of the World led by Garry Sobers in 1971-72, I often sat in the SCG Dressing Room chatting with Sunil Gavaskar, Bishan Bedi and Farokh Engineer; wishing them “Good luck” as they went out to bat or say “well bowled” or “well kept” as they returned to the pavilion.
Sitting quietly but observing every ball in the same Dressing Room was Peter Pollock, South Africa’s great fast bowler. Injury had kept him out of the match and here was my chance to have a chat with him. I had my sympathy with South African cricketers. Due to the inhuman apartheid policy of their politicians world class cricketers like Barry Richards, Mike Procter, Peter and Graeme Pollock, among others, had to suffer as their country was then boycotted to play sports with other nations The reason behind South Africa being one of my favourite teams was because a South African Test great, Dudley Nourse, had given me the inspiration to write on cricket. My elder brother Behram had presented me a book Cricket in the Blood written by Dudley Nourse when I was about 11. I read and reread it till I could remember pages of it. Among my first articles published was on cricketing families. Subsequently, my first book published was titled Cricket’s Great Families. I was not fortunate to meet Dudley Nourse but here was his countryman Peter Pollock sitting in front of me. I asked his permission for an interview and he agreed readily. His three year younger brother, the legendary Graeme, was then batting and Peter said with a smile, “As a kid Graeme had an almost obsessive desire to stay at the crease. So much so that often fisticuffs proved to be the only satisfactory method of effecting a dismissal!”
“When seven, he [Graeme] made a vow: ‘One day I am going to show the Aussies just what it is like playing against a Neil Harvey’. And he kept his word.” “What about you as a youngster?” I asked Peter. “Until I was 15, I was a short, fat little fellow who used to open [batting] for my school. Even now I don’t consider myself a tail-ender. Then in 1956 I had jaundice. Real bad! It kept me in bed for three months, in which time I gained six to seven inches in height. Soon after I could bowl much faster.” So fast that that he made his debut as a speedster few years later and was partly responsible for South Africa’s stunning wins over England and Australia. Your favourite cricketers, I asked. “Among batsmen I have bowled to, [Australia’s] Bob Simpson comes very high on my list. Among bowlers Neil Adcock, the South African quickie is my hero. [Australia’s] Graham McKenzie has also impressed me. It was the fiery fast bowling of Adcock and Peter Heine against Australia in the 1956-57 Port Elizabeth Test which inspired me to bowl fast.”
“I was then a 15 year-old chubby room attendant who watched the bouncers of Heine and Adcock as I made mental notes for the future.” The moment you cherished most in your cricket career? “My Test debut against New Zealand in December 1961. I took nine wickets including six in the second innings and we won narrowly. Also the 1965 Trent Bridge Test [against England] was a very happy occasion for my family and my country.” In that Test, Graeme scored 125 and 59 while Peter took 5 for 53 and 5 for 34 as South Africa won by 94 runs. Continued Peter: “Then of course the partnership with Garry Sobers who made brilliant 254 runs in the Melbourne international [for World XI against Australia] last week. I enjoyed it from close. There can be no greater cricketer than Garry”.
He was too modest to mention his own contribution in that match when he added 186 runs for the eighth wicket with Sobers, scoring 54 runs himself. Apart from Sobers and Simpson, Peter showed his highest opinion for his younger brother Graeme. Peter Pollock tried all he could to introduce multiracial cricket in South Africa at club level. He was one of many South African cricketers who staged a walkout in 1971 to record their protest against apartheid in sport. As he had written in the June 1971 issue of The Cricketer (England), “Whether the walk-off was the right thing to do and whether it will, in fact, help to save the tour to Australia and other cricket visits is basically incidental. What is more important is that it was a genuine and sincere gesture in the name of cricket and all that the game stands for.” His plea for the inclusion of two non-whites in the South African tour to Australia in 1971-72 was not considered by the government and the tour was subsequently cancelled. [His suggestions were subsequently taken up at higher level.] He got nostalgic and said, “I remember as a youngster, I wanted to be one of the fastest in the world. I reckoned I achieved that in Australia in 1963. Then I wanted to be a bowler who could use his brains, varying pace and swing – and this happened in England in 1965. My next ambition was to be the most successful fast bowling wicket-taker in South African history. This happened against Australia last year .” I thanked Peter for his time and wrote about our friendly chat which was published in an Indian daily. When I air-mailed the article to him he graciously replied on 15 February 1972: Dear Mr Meher-Homji, “Thanks very much for your letter, the photographs and the cutting. It was indeed very kind of you to pass them on and I must further thank you for those kind words. I thought it was very well handled. “I must admit that I am a little sad about the thought that I will no longer be active in first-class cricket, but a time comes for everyone to say goodbye. I have had an extremely good run and I would like to get out at a stage when I am still enjoying the game. By doing so, I feel that I will always remember the game kindly and, as a writer, there will be no chips on my shoulder. “The best service that I can now perform for this wonderful game is to write intelligently and constructively about it. Unfortunately, there are many writers these days whose lack of knowledge about the finer points forces them into the sensational, scoop-crazy rat-race and the game suffers. It is nice to meet those who have the game at heart and I would rank you among them. “Thanks once again for your letter and the kind words. Keep well. “Yours sincerely, [signed] Peter Pollock” Lack of Test incentives hastened the retirement of physical-condition-fanatic Peter Pollock at an early age of 30. He became a lay priest after his retirement. His dream of South Africa playing international cricket came true when the hateful policy of apartheid was dismantled. To his delight South Africa played a one-day international match against India on 10 November 1991 in Kolkata, watched by about 90,000 cricket lovers. It was the first ever cricket encounter between India and South Africa. Peter’s son Shaun carried on from where he had left off. What a gene pool, three legends on and off the field. Below are their stats. These would have been more outstanding (for Peter and Graeme) but for their country’s exclusion from international sport from 1970 to 1991.
The Pollocks in Test cricket
HS = Highest Score; * = not out; 5w/i = 5 wickets / innings.