Growing up in a period when South Africans weren’t allowed to compete outside their country in most sports, my introduction to international cricket didn’t include a bat and ball at all, but was rather limited to dusty cricketing annuals and record books.
Paging through an old calendar while sitting on an old ottoman in my local library, the thought of us competing against the real world seemed so mystical as I used to memorise South Africa’s Test records printed on those yucky, discoloured pages.
Johnny Waite held the record for the most Tests: 50. Geoff Griffin took our only Test hat-trick (a record he remarkably still holds) and Graeme Pollock annihilated Australia at Kingsmead in scoring the highest individual Test score: 274. Not to mention his phenomenal career average of 60.97, that was until very recently second only behind legendary Australian Donald Bradman’s freakish 99.94.
So my excitement was massive when we were finally allowed back into the international arena and South Africa played their first Test back from the cold just over a quarter of a century ago.
Over the course of these 25 years, the record books have been rewritten dozens of times and Pollock’s knock in Durban has been bettered no less than five times. His average has also been surpassed by two Aussies in Adam Voges and Steve Smith, although the latter is bound to dip below the 60s at some stage.
But nonetheless, almost 50 years after playing his last Test, Pollock features prominently in the record books. At the other end of the spectrum, Heino Kuhn will probably never feature in the same breath as cricket’s batting elite. The 33-year-old was handed a belated Test debut in the first Test at Lord’s and deserves praise for his determination in never giving up on his dream after making his first-class debut all of a dozen years ago.
But Pollock clearly didn’t approve of Kuhn’s selection as he slammed South African transformation policies at Trent Bridge last week. “You are going to pick a guy like Heino Kuhn, the opening batsman, who got a couple of hundreds in first-class cricket. He’s not good enough to play Test cricket,” Pollock said.
“The guys are playing in a bad standard of first-class cricket in South Africa because of the politics and interference in selection.”
Kuhn’s job as an opener is to get the shine off the ball, regardless of his domestic pedigree or the amount of runs he scores. At Trent Bridge, Kuhn faced 109 balls for a combined 42 runs and for the record, only one English batsman faced more balls in the entire Test.
It was Jonny Bairstow with 110 – one more in fact – over his two innings. Kuhn outperformed Alastair Cook, who is England’s all-time leading run-scorer, in his own back yard. That’s the problem with stats. Kuhn will probably not finish his Test career with a record average and his gritty performance that helped his country to a great Test win can’t be measured in numbers.
And on the other hand, his shameless disregard for a fellow Test player won’t tarnish Pollock’s great numbers. And although I could handle those smelly pages in my favourite library aisle, I simply can’t stomach the stench from his disrespectful outburst. His book of fond memories is way overdue, I’m afraid.