One of Ireland's greatest cricketers, Stuart Pollock, has died at the age of 96. He was the last surviving Irish cricketer to play before the Second World War.
By way of tribute CricketEurope published his biography by Edward Liddle.
Stuart Pollock, son of former Irish captain and stylish batting all rounder William, was, for about ten years after the Second World War, the best batsman in Ireland.
Statisticians might call this into question by quoting some of his figures, but few, if any, who had the good fortune to see him bat, would disagree.
Very quick on his feet, he excelled with the hook, but had a wide array of strokes, equally at home off either foot. He was a destroyer of bowling at club level, and, on his day, could repeat this at a higher sphere. He did not always satisfy his critics. Thus Pat Hone, a self professed admirer of his batting wrote, while Pollock was still playing that, "He too often presents his wicket to the bowler for no good reason."
He was said to lack concentration. He would, it was claimed have been a better player if he had curbed his natural aggression somewhat. Hone felt that he came down the wicket too much, even in defence. He was also said to have too much bottom hand in his shots. This writer, who counts himself privileged to have seen Stuart in his pomp in full cry, would not have had him any other way and nor, he suspects, would the great mass of those who have similar recollections. And as for too much bottom hand? Well, they used to say the same about Peter May!
Stuart was also a superb fieldsman, in the cover point or mid wicket areas, and sometimes turned his arm over to deliver off spin of slightly less than Lakerlike quality. An outstanding all round sportsmen at Campbell College, Stuart gained a regular place in the NICC side in 1938, and apart from war service, was a first choice selection until back trouble and pressure of work brought about his retirement in 1962.
He headed the averages 8 times, captaining the team from 1948 to 1950 and, again, in 1960 when he led them to the League Cup double, taking a leading role in the Cup Final with 72* in North's first innings of 150. Allied to "Sonny" Hool's spin it gave the Ormeau side an 8 wicket victory. There were several rain breaks and the wicket always took spin.
This innings showed not only Stuart's qualities but, as was also evident in his international career, his flair for the big occasion. He had also hit a brilliant 111* v Sion Mills in the Cup in the previous season, having already made 84 against the villagers on an earlier occasion. He was also in the Cup winning teams of 1938, 1951 and 1956.
On the third occasion, his second innings 47 was a crucial contribution to his side's success. They had trailed Lurgan by 30 in the first innings, and as the final margin was an 18 run victory, Stuart cleanly made the vital contribution with the bat, though he would have been the first to acknowledge the all round performance of Stan Hewitt and the bowling of Hool.
He also hit a hundred in the Cup against North Down in 1948, striking a superb 138, well supported by Stanley Morgan (33) and John Hewitt (32) as North totalled 301. David Graham then took a "5 for" as the Comber side went down by 243 runs.
He often did well for Ulster, never playing better in such a match than for NCU v Derbyshire at Ormeau in 1948. The home batsmen, Stuart apart had no answer to the County's pace trimvirate of Bill Copson, Cliff Gladwin and Les Jackson, all past or future test men, Jackson, in particular being a really good bowler, who should certainly have gained more than two England caps. They hustled the hosts out for 102 of which Stuart made a brilliant 58, taking on the attack and showing his hook shot to advantage. He failed in the second innings, in another collapse, but had the satisfaction of being the only batsman to reach double figures in both innings.
Stuart was seen to good advantage in several of the North v South matches which featured as an Irish Trial between 1949 and 1965. In the first such match, at Rathmines in 1949, the North began their second innings 10 runs in the lead and needing quick runs to declare before trying to force a win. Batting at 4 Stuart responded with a typically adventurous 76 with 8 fours before he was run out. The declaration, a challenging one, followed but the hosts, though they lost early wickets had little trouble in playing out time.
He was to do even better on the same ground two years later, in a match which, as several in the series were, was badly affected by rain. The South led off with a competitive 244, thanks to a robust century from Simon Curley. The North replied with 183-3 before further play became impossible. Stuart had dominated the play with a superb 119* which contained 20 fours and came out of 173 runs scored while he was at the wicket. In 1953 the North v South fixture was replaced by an Ireland v The Rest contest which was left drawn.
Stuart once more enlivened proceedings making a brilliant 70 in the first innings. Coming in at 8-1 he destroyed The Rest attack batting for 79 minutes and hitting 11 fours before being dismissed with the score at 111.
He also made a number of appearances for MCC in non first class matches. Against the Canadians at Lord's in 1954 he topscored in the second innings with an elegant 39 as MCC went down by 13 runs in a two day match. The hosts included former England captains in Gubby Allen, Freddie Brown and Bob Wyatt as well as the - ageing - Bodyline bowler Bill Voce. Stuart outshone this illustrious quartet. He again topscored for "The Premier Club" in a one innings match against RMA Sandhurst in 1956, making 41 as an opener.
For Ireland he played 41 times scoring 1506 runs at 21.51. His critics have not been slow to point to this as underachievement and to highlight his eleven ducks. They believe that his one century, 129 v Scotland in College Park in 1951, and 9 fifties should have been improved upon. It is, however, true that he rose to a challenge, some of his best innings being against the strongest opposition.
Thus his best knock for the national side is said to have been his 75 minute 89 v Yorkshire at College Park in 1949. On a turning wicket, Ireland were bowled out for 57 in the first innings with great left armer Johnny Wardle, and classy off spinner Ellis Robinson, doing the damage. Yorkshire also struggled in the conditions and a lunchtime declaration by England captain Norman Yardley left Ireland 410 to make or 240 minutes to bat out.
With both options unlikely Stuart, abetted by Bobby Barnes and George Wilson went for the bowling. Savaging Wardle and Robinson, he showed the Belfast cricket crowd, just how thin Wardle's veneer of good nature was. He got Stuart in the end, stumped by wicket keeper Don Brennan, who, two years later briefly replaced the great Godfrey Evans in the Test side. However the spinners figures are worth recording; Robinson 24.1-2-106-4 and Wardle 24-5-105-5 .
Stuart's big occasion flair, first shown as a 19 year old with 35 and 25 on debut v Scotland in 1939, having been 12th man against the Australians at Ormeau the previous year, was also seen to good account against South Africa at Ormeau in 1951 and India in College Park in 1952. Against the South Africans he belied his critics with a patient innings against the off spin of Athol Rowan (3-49) and the slow left arm of "Tufty" Mann (4/48) so that Ireland gained a slender lead. Unfortunately they then collapsed against the spinners, with only Tom McCloy reaching double figures.
In 1952 India forced Ireland to follow on in College Park, Stuart being caught behind for a duck off pace bowling Oxford blue, RV Divecha. In the follow on Stuart and Eddie Ingram(54) both made half centuries, Stuart being caught and bowled by all rounder GS Ramchand, a future Indian captain. Other noteworthy innings were his 76 v MCC at Lord's in 1949, the fine summer clearly suiting him, and 82 at the same venue in 1953. "Pollock, an entertaining batsman, gave an aggressive display of driving," commented Wisden.
His final match for Ireland was on a gloomy weekend at Rathmines in September 1957 against a Free Forester side of almost insulting weakness. The FF bowling was put to the sword with Stuart signing off with a majestic 64. His captaincy of Ireland was not a great success, winning only one of the ten matches in which he was in charge between 1951 and 1955, though this is, in part, due to strength of opposition, with four matches against Test sides being included.
His prowess was recognised across the water and he was often in demand for MCC and FF teams. Three of these matches were first class. In 1954 v Cambridge at Lord's he hit a classy second innings 46, which, though the hosts top score was not enough to stave off an innings defeat. The MCC side had included two England captains but an astonishing hundred by the University number 8, JF Pretlove, was too much for them. Stuart was more successful against Oxford in 1956. He made 82 catching the eye of Wisden as did the Leicestershire opener Maurice Hallam (136). "Hallam... and Pollock, the Irish batsman excelled for MCC." The MCC side included two former West Indian Test men Gerry Gomez and Dr CB Bertie" Clarke.
He also appeared for the Free Foresters against at Cambridge in 1958, but without much success.
After his retirement, he remained a prominent figure being President of the Irish Cricket Union in 1980, in which role he was described by Derek Scott in the 1981 ICU Yearbook, as, "much travelled, popular and successful."
His Presidency of the Leprechauns also attracted much praise and favourable comment. He also became captain of The Royal County Down Golf Club. Though cricket was always the main sport of this man, who once owned a pair of dogs called Grace and Hutton, it was not his only sport.
As befitted his quick footed batting he was an outstanding squash player and also reached trialist status as a centre three quarter and a hockey forward.
Fittingly, his name features beside that of his father in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats"
I am indebted to Clarence Hiles' History of the NCU Challenge Cup published in 2011.