By Tomas Hill Lopez-Menchero
When a former Ashes-winning captain says you will play cricket for England, you know you must be doing something right. Just a few months ago, Ed Pollock was in Durham Cathedral collecting his degree in Economics, but Michael Vaughan’s admiration was hardly surprising after a hugely impressive inaugural T20 Blast campaign for the Collingwood alumnus.
Pollock’s fearless batting helped Birmingham Bears to the final, but it is testament to his attitude that he is not getting carried away by dreams of Lord’s just yet, even if Vaughan has tipped him for England.
“Every guy dreams of doing that,” he tells me. “But at the moment I’m taking it one step at a time and working on what I’m doing at Warwickshire.”
Both his father and his brother played first-class for Cambridge University, and Pollock was on the books at Worcestershire’s academy growing up. And yet, he did not consider himself destined for the professional game when he left school.
“I wasn’t thinking of playing cricket professionally, I just wanted to play as high a standard as I wanted. I was looking at going to one of the six MCCU centres and academically I’d always worked hard so I wanted to go somewhere that was still going to push me academically, so I was looking at the likes of Oxford, Cambridge, Durham.”
The Economics course and cricket centre at Durham eventually swayed Pollock. He praises the MCCU set-up, where “everything is there for you as a cricketer if you want to train”.
“The programme in place allows you to train as much as a professional, so I managed to get maybe an hour or two hours training a day when I was up in my third year. With the coaches there, off your own back, if you put the effort in, you can train as much as a professional as you want to, if not more.
“You’ve got all the strength and conditioning stuff, there’s a psychologist you can work with, you’ve got Paul Grayson, who’s an excellent coach… If you want to take your game to the next level there’s a difference between other universities, where you have access to the coaching staff if you want it and it’s all there for you.”
Like any university student, Pollock says juggling his various commitments was a struggle. Of course, he had to make sacrifices, particularly towards the end of his time at Durham.
“That was the hardest bit I found about university, trying to get the right balance between whatever a student does – going out, work, cricket. I struggled throughout the three years really. First and second year I don’t think I got the balance quite right, but third year I finally managed to find the way, making a few sacrifices by not going out as much as others but still having fun.”
It was his director of cricket at Shrewsbury, Paul Greetham, who gave Pollock his first break as Warwickshire’s elite development manager. Greetham gave him a trial in his first summer of university, and at the beginning of the 2016 season, Pollock signed an academy contract with the county cricket club.
The emergence of young talent like Pollock this year was one of the few positives this season for Warwickshire, who were relegated from the County Championship, finishing rock bottom. He says the club has done well to integrate younger players.
“I think this year we’ve had about six or seven guys who have made debuts across 50 over, T20 and red ball. It’s definitely a case of ‘if you’re good enough, you’ll get a go’ if you’re doing well in the second team. Whilst the championship campaign hasn’t been great, at least there’s been quite a few debutants who have come in, and everyone who’s come in has done well.”
Pollock and other up-and-coming cricketers at the club have also benefitted from the presence of seasoned internationals on the side. While he says it would be foolish to expect “a silver bullet” to turn anyone into a world-class player, he has enjoyed the experience of working with them.
“I think it depends on your mindset. If you think of them as these international players it can be daunting but the best thing at our age is just to try to learn as much as you can. I learnt a lot from Grant Elliott during the T20 and I’ve got close with Jonathan Trott so it helps me with the four-day stuff – it’s great to just tap into them.”
In fact, Pollock’s real breakthrough came when he replaced veteran Ian Bell for his county debut. He put Derbyshire to the sword with a borrowed bat from Chris Woakes, hitting 66 from 40 balls to kick-start the Birmingham side’s season. He hit two more half-centuries over the the tournament, against Durham and most notably Glamorgan on semi-finals day, as the Bears stormed to the final.
When I ask him what he made of his maiden T20 season, Pollock admits he was not expecting such a fruitful return.
“[It was] a bit surreal really. My goals this year are more about trying to do well in second team cricket and maybe getting a go in the first team so I’ve exceeded my expectations massively there. It started well, next few games weren’t quite as good but then I came back for the quarter-final onwards. It went as well as I could have hoped.”
The Bears lost to Notts Outlaws by 22 runs in the final at Edgbaston, but, while he was disappointed, Pollock chooses to look at the bigger picture.
“Obviously you want to win and we were in a good position to, and we had them three wickets down early doors, but then they had a good partnership there and getting up to 190 is always going to be a hard chase. [It was] very disappointing, but considering at one point we looked like we might not qualify, to get all that way is obviously a big plus.”
He may have shown his natural ability in white-ball cricket, but he recognises there are aspects of his game which he must improve if he wants to move into red ball for Warwickshire. His confident batting was crucial as the Bears reached finals day, but greater concentration might be required if he wants to make the step up.
“My biggest strength in terms of stroke play is that I can hit most shots out there and hit them all quite cleanly but it can become my weakness, that I’ll go and play one shot too many generally. It’s just being able to know what my game plan would be and not going out there trying to play too many shots from ball one.”
It is clear that Pollock is not content with just being a T20 player, and his objective is clear.
“T20 is probably my strength at the moment but I do have ambitions to play all three formats – I’m not going to pigeonhole myself this early at 22. It shows I can do it on the big stage which hopefully means I can transition from one format to the other.”
Given how his career has gone so far, you wouldn’t bet against him doing just that.
Photograph: Warwickshire County Cricket Club