It is easier to criticise a team that is playing poorly than a team which is playing well, and it is certainly easier to criticise the captain of a losing team than a winning one.
So Shaun Pollock should be applauded for his current form and for the compelling form of his team. But may we be forgiven just a small gripe?
A crowd of 10,260 paid to watch the second day of the Newlands Test and the great majority would have cherished the opportunity of saying, potentially for many years, “I was there” when talking about the record total achieved by South Africa.
Shaun has often paid tribute to his predecessor as captain, Hansie Cronje, and both men had an awareness of the history and the ‘essence’ of the game. Shaun could hardly not be aware of the sport’s rich traditions given the achievements of his father, Peter, and uncle Graeme.
Records are occasionally manufactured, but rarely so. India’s Anil Kumble took ten wickets in an innings two years ago because seamer Javagal Srinath spent two overs bowling down the leg side in an effort not to claim the last victim. Fair enough, perhaps.
But the South African record total was there for the taking having been set up by the brilliance of Herschelle Gibbs and Graeme Smith on the first day. To have reached the threshold of history by midway through the second day was extraordinary. It required just five more minutes, just a single over.
Amazingly, Shaun admitted after the day’s play that he had been unsure of exactly what the record was. “I actually thought we’d passed it,” said a sheepish captain afterwards.
It would be extreme and unfair to suggest that Shaun’s ignorance of the details of history had robbed the crowd of something they ‘deserved’, but it is certainly reasonable to expect a captain to be aware of his place in history and to remember it for the sake of his audience, especially when the ultimate objective – winning the Test match – would not be compromised.
Cronje had the chance to claim the record for his team in 1999 but declined it for very different reasons. He admitted that a pitch covered in wood glue at Eden Park, the mecca of New Zealand rugby, on which bowlers of any sort were utterly neutered, was not the right place to erase Graeme Pollock and the brilliant team of 1969-70 from the record books.
And praise his memory for that. But it would have been deeply appropriate to equate Gibbs and Smith’s opening stand of 368 with the record total.
Oh well. Never mind. Next time, Shaun?
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