William Pollock feature
William Pollock, variously referred to as Willie or Bill, was an outstanding, attacking batsman, who usually opened the innings. Dark haired, tall and upstanding at the crease was also a good fast medium bowler whose skills developed with experience.
In the XI at Campbell College in 1900 and 1901, he made his senior debut for his home club, Holywood in 1903, aged 17, and soon became an essential part of the side.
He was not outclassed in the successful Cup Final win over North Down in 1905, and scored his first senior hundred in 1908, the year in which he was first selected for Ireland but was unfortunately unavailable.
He made his debut the following year and was never out of the selectors' thoughts until 1925.
These seasons before the War were the great ones of Holywood cricket and Willie played a major part in them. In 1909, he achieved a then club record of 625 runs at 78.12, though he exceeded this total in 1913, with 783 runs, including a magnificent 159* v Armagh, regarded by some as his best ever innings.
Captain that year, he took the Club to a runners up place in the League, but the following season played the major part in regaining the title, which they had held in 1910, when he had averaged 81.70. His captaincy was skilful, his batting its normal high standard, while his bowling had now become formidable, as figures of 9-14 against Waringstown would indicate.
He hit three hundreds in the NCU Challenge Cup. In 1908 he destroyed the Banbridge attack with a barnstorming 124, including 19 fours and 3 sixes. Holywood reached 348-8 at which point Banbridge conceded the match.
Another win came the following season in first round match with Downpatrick. Willie made a stylish 113 ot of a completed total of 193 then helped reduce Downpatrick to 70-5. At this point the seasiders protests about the alleged professional status of Downpatrick all rounder caused the match to be suspended. NCU upheld the claim and when Downpatrick refused a replay - without Brown - so the match was awarded to Holywood.
In 1911 Willie had another hundred, 101 v Ulster, but the match was lost, albeit to the eventual Cup winners. All this time he had also been a member of NICC, playing for them in friendlies. He did so most notably on their annual tour of Dublin in 1910 and 1911. In both years, he had centuries against the power houses of Leinster and Phoenix. In the former year, he hit a brilliant 173 at Observatory Lane following this with 136 in the Park.
In the latter, the Leinster men again fielded out to a big hundred -163 -but perhaps got off lightly. For while Willie made "only" 105 v Phoenix, he took part in an extraordinary stand with Oscar Andrews putting on 161 in three quarters of an hour.
After the War, he moved to North full time. This was largely for non cricket reasons but he was badly missed by the Co Down side, which went into decline. For NICC Willie excelled for the next seven seasons. Opening the batting, he established a partnership with the Englishman, JC Walton, which was said, by long time supporters to be the best the Ormeau Club had seen since the days of Charlie Vint and Ned Newstead, who had plied their trade at the turn of the century.
1922 was a great season. He passed 1000 runs in all matches and, as well as scoring a much talked of hundred for Ireland, hit 113 against the North West. He was four years captain of the Club, having his greatest triumph in his last, 1925, when he took his team to the NCU Challenge Cup Final v Cliftonville. In a closely fought, low scoring match, his second innings figures of 5-37, left only 106 needed for victory. This was no easy task but Willie and Walton, knocked the runs of without being separated. Walton passed his fifty and the captain finished on 47*.
He also appeared in representative Cricket for Ulster and Stanley Cochrane's Woodbrook XI. His best match in such outings was for Woodbrook against the 1911 All India touring team, the first to play first class cricket in England. They easily overcame Ulster, with Willie recording a rare double failure, and then he travelled with them to the Woodbrook game. In the first innings, in the middle order, he top scored with an elegant 72. Added to George Morrow's stylish second innings hundred, this ensured a 35 run victory.
His final such game was a first class one v the 1912 South Africans. He failed with the bat, he was far from alone, but removed the great Herbie Taylor twice for single figures in his opening spells, also accounting for top order batsman LA Stricker in the first innings.
He was first chosen for Ireland v Yorkshire in 1908 at College Park. Crass fixture organisation, which showed a, possibly deliberate, lack of communication somewhere, meant that this match took place while Ulster and Philadelphia were involved in Belfast. Thus Pollock and Andrews stood down from the national side.
His debut came the following year v Scotland at the North Inch, Perth. Ireland were defeated by an innings, but Pollock and Bob Lambert, both uncharacteristically stone walling, almost saved the game, Willie batting more than 3 hours for 47. Strangely he played only another seven matches for Ireland, war and unavailability, perhaps, preventing him from carving himself an imperishable niche in Ireland's Cricket history.
He was chosen for that year's American tour but an injured leg meant that he could not go. Nor did the Lambert brothers or three of the Meldon clan. This meant that only Morrow, a replacement, showed the skill to bat against the great JB King, as the captain, Frank Browning, a major Irish batsman for almost two decades, proved to be on "a tour too far. "
Pollock was at the height of his powers so it would have been a most interesting contest between him and King, arguably the greatest swing bowler of all time, as well as the high class Australian leg spinner HV Hordern.
He had two other memorable matches for Ireland. The Scots match of 1922, at Glasgow's Hamilton Crescent Ground, finished in an exciting draw, with Ireland just short of their target. This had been made possible by fine pace bowling from Oxonian Gus Kelly who had brought about a collapse when the match seemed to be petering out, and earlier by a great hundred from Pollock in Ireland's first innings.
Replying to a useful Scots total, he and footballer Louis Bookman put on 111 for the first wicket. Thereafter things fell away and the Scots gained a small lead. It would have been a larger one, had Willie not made 144, an innings talked about for years by those who saw it.
The following year, at Rathmines, Ireland were deeply in trouble in a second innings follow on 202 behind. Willie, who had been out for 1 in the first innings, contributed a stalwart 81, then took 2-20 to help prevent a successful run chase.
He captained Ireland against Wales at Ormeau in 1924, but, though it was a source of immense pride to him to lead his country on his home ground, he could not provide the form to match the occasion. Ireland lost by 9 wickets.
He played two further matches, finishing at Lord's in 1925. Appropriately he made runs, 40, which helped Ireland to an innings win.
After retirement from regular Cricket, he coached at Rockport, a preparatory school overlooking Belfast Lough, and played a great deal of golf, playing for the Royal County Down, in several tournaments.
He took great delight in watching his son Stuart follow him into the NICC and Irish teams and to the captaincy of both. Willie was President of the ICU in 1956. His limited appearances at the highest level make it hard to judge just how good a player he was.
The paper "Illustrated Sports Weekly" 11 June 1911, rated him a superior bat to Lucius Gwynn. As Gwynn died the year before Willie first played senior cricket, this is a difficult proposition to prove or disprove. Certainly he ranks very highly amongst Irish batsmen of his - or any other - age.
I am indebted to Clarence Hiles' History of the NCU Challenge Cup published in 2011.
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