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Winning in the Game of Life - The Shaun Pollock story

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by Natasha Coker-Jones


It's 7 p.m. on a Friday.

South African Cricketer Shaun Pollock bounces into the tangerine hallway and pulls up a nearby stool. He appears amazingly composed for someone who just a couple hours before played a tough warm-up match against Pakistan at UWI SPEC in Trinidad. 

I scan his face for a sign. Dear Lord, why didn't I find out the score?

"What was the outcome of the game?"

"We lost," was his simple response.

Shaun Pollock, 33, takes days like these in stride.

"Cricket teaches you a lot about life," he mused. "You deal with ups and downs. There are a lot of surprises. Things don't always go according to plan."

Former South African Captain Shaun Pollock is used to the highs and lows of the game. He's had his fill. When Pollock, comes out to bowl, everyone knows you better have a game plan-a good one. And his turn at the batting crease can be equally punishing. 

Born in Port Elizabeth, Cape Province, Pollock is making his fourth appearance at an ICC Cricket World Cup, which up to press time, was still in progress. This one is special; it's his last. "I think we've really got a good chance and I've got a good feeling about this World Cup," Pollock said. "I'm looking forward to it. It will be my last one." 

South Africa entered the competition in the number one spot in the ODI rankings. "It's a nice confidence booster." That's all. "Whoever walks away with the trophy in the end will basically be looked at as the number one team in the world." That's just how it goes. Up to press time there have been some surprises. Pakistan and India are out, while Ireland, the ‘David' of this World Cup slew its Goliaths to push through to the second round. Both South Africa and home-favourites, the West Indies, are in the Super Eight. What's next is anyone's guess.

Pollock made his test cricket debut in November 1995 against England. This, for him, was a dream come true. "The first time you walk on to the field to represent your country is definitely the most special moment," Pollock said. "As a kid you play in the back gardens since age five or six dreaming of playing for your country. I used to walk around with a green cap, so to actually get the cap and be out there performing, you sort of had to pinch yourself."

To say expectations were high would be an understatement. Pollock has come from a long-established cricketing family. His father, Peter, spearheaded the Springbok pace attack in the 60s and 70s and his uncle Graeme Pollock is regarded by many as cricket's greatest left hand batsman.

"People took notice of what I was doing because of the Pollock name," Shaun said. "But it also put a little bit of pressure on me to try to live up to the name."

But he did, excelling at the game and honing his skills through the system, which included school, under 21, Provincial cricket for the Natal Dolphin - all before joining the ranks of the Proteas, as the team is sometimes called.

"At the time Malcolm Marshall was our overseas pro. He made a big impact on helping me come through. He built a lot of confidence in me getting me to back my own ability and he was basically there for the four years leading up to me making my debut for South Africa. I think the Provincial set up was very good and is very good. It does prepare you well." 

Pollock described what it was like growing up in a South Africa that was under Apartheid.

"We grew up just playing the game of cricket and enjoying life. It's only as you get older you understand and grasp the concept of it. Then you come to realise that it was wrong." Pollock was 20 when Apartheid was abolished. In 1998, Makhaya Ntini became the first post-Apartheid black South African to be selected as a player. 

"I think that was fantastic for the country," Pollock said about the end of Apartheid and the lifting of the ICC's 21-year ban on them. "It was fantastic for me because I believed it was wrong and it was also fantastic from a sporting perspective because we were back in international sport and it was an opportunity for me to play cricket for my country."

But playing for his country was not the only defining moment in Pollock's life. Years earlier at age 12, he had already made the decision that shaped his destiny.

"As a kid we used to go to Sunday School and we used to go to church on Christmas and Easter. That was basically it." Everything changed when his parents became Christians.

"As far as becoming a reborn Christian, obviously once my mother and father had become Christians I saw the change in their lives and the love just started to show and I just realised that that was an influence that I wanted in my life."

Pollock describes his life since then as "a fantastic journey."

"It's not about religion for me. It's about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and it affects every aspect of your life." Pollock had to tap that strength when after the 2003 World Cup he was sacked as Captain and subsequently replaced by Graeme Smith.

"It was a low experience; there is no hiding from it," Pollock said of the experience. "To get fired from your job is never an easy thing to deal with, so there is no doubt that it was quite difficult for me. But at the end of the day my dream was to play cricket for my country and that didn't change."

Pollock purposed to go on playing for his country. "I needed to give the (new) Captain my full support and change my role from being Captain to being a good senior player, help the young guys and just put my energies back into making sure I performed as an individual...It did take a little adjustment but I think in life you have to adjust to different things. I know that God helped me through this period."

On the home front, Pollock has the support of Tricia (short for Patricia), his wife of seven years. He also has a three-year-old daughter, Jemma and seven-month old baby girl, Georgia. Being away from home, he said, is one of the hardest parts of the job.

Being a Christian helps him handle the other things that have, unfortunately, become synonymous with the life of a professional athlete.

"I'm a teetotaller, so I don't drink at all. As far as womanising, I've been married for seven years. Obviously being a Christian teaches you what's right and wrong.

"But also it's just a respect thing. My wife makes a lot of sacrifices. She stays at home and has sacrificed her career and has allowed me to live my dreams. So it won't be much of a respect if I went out there womanising," he said. "You need to understand that you formed a team with regards to your family and you need to play your game."

When not on tour, Pollock tries to spend as much quality time as possible with his family. He also enjoys playing golf.

Fellowship is an issue he spoke candidly about. "Obviously it's difficult because we often play on Sundays so to get to church is not easy." He does not have a home church. "My wife does not really enjoy going alone so it's difficult for us to do that. What I do is I bring a lot of DVDs and books. I'm a big fan of Joyce Meyer."

He continued: "I do a lot of reading and I have a lot of quiet time. I think it is important to fellowship but that is not the ‘be all' and ‘end all' of Christianity. I think the time you spend in the Word and with the Lord is the most valuable thing."

Pollock is not shy about his faith. It's mentioned in almost every feature article on him. He obviously has a lot going for him: fame; money; a loving family and a dream job. Perhaps it's for this reason that some are baffled by statements like these: "I'm what people perceive as worldly successful and I can say that for me the best decision I've ever made is to have Jesus in my life. So if people perceive me as successful, I need him in my life. Therefore Christianity is not just for the poor."

After the World Cup Pollock says he plans to take his career one year at a time. He joked that the warm up-matches have been a bit "West Indian pace" for a team that's accustomed to playing every third day.

I couldn't resist promising him some good ‘tempo' from the West Indies once the real games begin.

There's no talk of retirement just yet. "I'll take it year by year," Pollock said. "I don't look too far ahead. I'm still enjoying my cricket so maybe another season and I'll reassess after that."

And life after cricket? "Well I've got a Bachelor of Commerce degree toward Marketing and being in the sports field maybe something along those lines. I'm not too sure but I know God has a plan for me and at the right time I know He will reveal it."  




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