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South Africa

The Fast Men
Any side needs some real pace and there are some pretty strong contenders for a place in my side.

The first to consider is Neil Adcock. Tall, fair-haired very quick and very nasty he was a real tough nut. From a high action he got bounce and sharp in swing and those who played against him describe him as ‘a real awkward b****** who got up your nose’. Certainly he had lots of aggression combined with stamina and, by all accounts, he liked hitting batsmen. When New Zealand toured South Africa in 1953-54 they played the second Test at Ellis Park. The pitch there wasn’t too clever and Adcock was lethal. In the Kiwi’s first innings he put Bert Sutcliffe and Lawrie Miller in hospital and two others were bowled off their chests !

Neil Amwin Treharne Adcock never got into the top sides as a schoolboy and was never selected for the Nuffield weeks where all the top youngsters from the country got a chance to show what they could do. It was former Test opener Eric Rowan who spotted his potential and encouraged the lad to bowl fast. He shared the new ball with another contender, Peter Heine, who was 6ft 5ins tall and equally aggressive. While Adcock swung it in Heine made it go the other way and they made a pretty fearsome, nasty pair, a real handful.

Peter Richardson, the England opener, told me that in the first Test of the 1956-57 series at the new Wanderers ground in Johannesberg Heine hit him on the side of the head and sat him on his backside. As he lay there dazed (no helmets in those days) he looked up to see the bowler glowering down at him. “Get up, and I’ll hit you again”, he said.

Well, he did and went on to make what was then the slowest century in Test cricket. At the end of the first day England were 157 for three, with Richardson 69 not out and he eventually reached three figures after 8hrs and 8mins in the middle. But it turned out to be a match winning effort as South Africa collapsed in the second innings. There’s no doubt about it, Peter Samuel Heine was out for blood and often drew some!

Just as these two devils were coming to the end of their careers another nasty piece of work stepped on to the stage in 1961. Peter Maclean Pollock, Graeme’s elder brother, had 116 wickets in 28 Tests at an average of 24.1 but that’s only half the story. Nicknamed ‘Pooch’ because he used to squeal his appeals like a toy poodle, we had other less friendly names for him. He was part of the ‘new kids on the block’ along with his brother, Colin Bland, Eddie Barlow and Denis Lindsay who went to Australia in 1963-64 and drew the series 1-1. Against a strong Aussie line up of Bob Simpson, Bill Lawry, Peter Burge and Brian Booth, Pollock had 25 wickets at 28 apiece, so he could bowl a bit.

But there was always a mean streak and I came face to face with it on the MCC tour of South Africa in 1964-65. I’d been having a lean time on the tour but at Port Elizabeth against Eastern Province things came together and I was heading for a double hundred, my first. Mike Smith, the captain, sent out a message that the declaration was coming at the interval and I should bear that in my mind if I wanted to reach 200. As I recalled in My Autobiography: “Pollock probably guessed the situation. In any event he took absolutely ages to bowl the last over before lunch, whipped in a couple of bouncers that I couldn’t have reached with a step ladder and included two beamers which didn’t miss me by much. (Bob) Barber was not playing in that match but was in the bar later that evening when Pollock remarked that Boycott hadn’t liked his beamers. Bob stopped him short. ‘Do you actually mean to say you bowled those on purpose ? If you bowl any of those at me you’d better not miss because I’m coming straight for you with the bat. And you’d better not bowl any more at Geoff while I’m at the other end’, he said”.

From then on Bob took the mickey out of him which used to enrage Pollock. If he let him have a bouncer Bob would sway out of the way and then go down on one knee and play a ‘pretend’ sweep shot grinning all over his face while Pollock stood glaring and fuming a few paces away. It was all great theatre.

Mean side apart Peter was one hell of a competitor and on the 1965 tour of England had 20 wickets in a three match series.  In the second Test at Trent Bridge he produced match figures of 10 for 87 with five for 34 in the second innings from 24 overs.

I was at the other end in the first Test of that series at Lord’s when he hit John Edrich on the head in the second innings. He went down like a sack of spuds, retired hurt and didn’t come back, he was in no fit state. There were no helmets and no sightscreens at the pavilion end in those days and an inch or two either way might well have been fatal.

Given his nature on the field he went from one extreme to the other and turned to religion when he finished playing becoming a passionate preacher from the pulpit. Some say it was to atone for his sins on the field; I say he needed to!

Two other bowlers who have to be worthy of consideration are Vintcent Adriaan Pieter van der Bijl and Garth Stirling Le Roux. Neither of them had the opportunity to play Test cricket and so my judgement has to be on what they achieved in the Currie Cup and in English county cricket.

Van der Bijl was a tremendous bowler, a lot like Joel Garner, he was fastish medium with a high action and pitched the ball up just that fraction short of a length so that it was never really up to the batsmen and never really short, very awkward. This guy was quality and it was a pity he never got to play any Tests because I think he would have got wickets at the highest level. For Middlesex in 1980 he had 85 wickets at 14.72 and in his time in county cricket he won a lot of friends on and off the field with his amiable attitude and you couldn’t ask for a nicer bloke.

Garth was in the same mould though with a better physique. What a build for a quick bowler. I played against him when he was at Sussex, always found him a handful and when he went off to play for Packer in the SuperTests of 1978-79 he was voted man of the series with 17 wickets at 15 each and in the one-day games 17 wickets at 13 apiece. They’re fantastic figures for limited overs cricket and show just how good he was. He had pace and bounce from that huge frame and, like Vintcent, he was a super guy off the field. These two were tops and if they’d had Test careers I think we’d be talking about them as two of the great bowlers. As it is they have to be assessed against those who did.

The most outstanding of all the South African quick bowlers has got to be Allan Anthony Donald who played in 72 Tests and took 330 wickets at 22.25. He was there right from the start after his country’s readmission to the international arena, playing in the first ever official game against the West Indies in Barbados and although they lost that heavily there were better days ahead.

He had an easy run up, a silky approach, never seeming to strive and then exploded into the delivery stride. A class act with accuracy and the ability to bowl fast yorkers. He had good control from around the wicket, something not many pace bowlers can do well.

When India became the first coloured side to offically play in South Africa he had his best match figures in the third Test of the series in Port Elizabeth, 12 for 139, and on two other occasions  had 11 wickets in a game, against Zimbabwe, when they had a decent side, in Harare in 1995 and against England in 1999 in Johannesberg.

He could also be pretty hostile when he was stirred up as Michael Atherton found out when he gloved a catch behind at Trent Bridge in 1998 and was given not out. Michael wasn’t one for walking and paid the price as Donald really let him have it.

He played a major role in South Africa’s rise after their years of exile because with one truly great fast bowler operating at one end it was much easier for Shaun Pollock and others to perform at the other. Towards the end of his career he had a few injuries and I wonder if a lot of that wasn’t down to the amount of one-day cricket he played. In addition to 72 Tests over ten years he also bowled in 164 limited overs internationals and that’s roughly the equivalent to another 33 Tests. Take in all the extra travelling involved and it’s bound to take its toll. Added to that he had a fine career with Warwickshire with 536 wickets at 20.82 but it all made for a huge work load. That he managed it with such distinction is a great tribute to him.

He’s got to be in my side with Neil Adcock and the third place goes to Vintcent. The others all have strong claims but the main strike bowler usually favours one end over the other; it’s slightly downhill, or he wants the wind behind him or maybe there’s more bounce at one end. But someone has to perform at the other where it will be a bit harder with all those factors working against him. I think Vintcent would be ideal. He’s not busting a gut every ball for extra pace, you’re not going to get anything to hit and he has the strength, character and skill to do it magnificently.

Extract taken from The Best X1 by Geoffrey Boycott, by kind permission of Penguin Books www.penguinbooks.com <http://www.penguinbooks.com/>   The book is also on sale at The Shop