Peter Robinson

His own worst enemy

2005-04-12 07:49
<b>Daryll Cullinan (Siddique Davids, Beeld)</b>

Daryll Cullinan (Siddique Davids, Beeld)

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Four years ago, when South Africa won their first Test match in the Caribbean, victory was built around two commanding innings from the number four batsman.

Daryll Cullinan made 103 in South Africa's first innings and 73 in the second. He was named man of the match after the South Africans had won by 69 runs. He played three more Test matches, all in the same series, and never represented his country again.

Cullinan announced his retirement from first-class cricket last month after four years in the wilderness. He is 38 and probably feels he needs a rest after more than 20 years in the game, but he will leave behind the sense of a talent never completely fulfilled.

Even those whom most admire him will find it hard to argue that Cullinan was not a difficult man, more often than not his own worst enemy.

He was the most gifted South African player of his generation and yet he will probably be remembered less for his achievements than his failures.

By his own estimation the worth of a cricketer is how he measures up against the best of his time. Against Australia he failed.

During the 1997/98 tour of Australia, Cullinan was left out for the second and third Tests. The South African coach, Bob Woolmer, justified Cullinan's exclusion by saying he had a cloud hanging over him.

On the Sunday of the third Test in Adelaide I found myself turning steaks next to Cullinan at a braai. The South Africans were due to fly home immediately after the match ended and Gauteng had an away game against Natal scheduled the following weekend.

No point in stating the obvious

"So Daryll," I asked, "are you going to play next weekend?"

"What," he snapped. "What good is playing on a Kingsmead greentop going to do me?"

There seemed no point in stating the obvious: that the only way Cullinan would be able to win back his Test place was by playing.

The next day I interviewed Cullinan in the umpires' room as the Test match went on outside. He was courteous, honest and frank.

His well-publicised duels with Shane Warne, he acknowledged, had left him the laughing stock of two countries.

He couldn't quite explain the hold Warne had over him, but the sub-text to everything he said was the frustration he felt at not being able to prove to the world, and to himself, that he could play against Warne.

Throughout his career Cullinan was his own worst enemy, often picking senseless fights with people who were well-inclined towards him.

Some days he'd listen, sometimes he'd sneer. You were never very sure which Daryll Cullinan you'd find yourself talking to.

After retiring Barry Richards once confessed that he wished he'd scored fewer runs and made more friends during his playing days. Cullinan may reflect on this in his retirement.

He effectively stymied his own chances of playing more Test cricket three years ago when he walked out on the South African team on the eve of the second Test against Australia at Newlands.

In a moment that seemed to sum him up perfectly, Cullinan flew into Cape Town, involved himself in an argument about a contract and caught the next flight back to Johannesburg.

Chickened out

He didn't manage to make it outside Cape Town airport.

No matter what he said or felt, he'd burned his bridges. No one was going to take this sort of behaviour and there was no sympathy from his fellow players.

To make it worse was the knowledge that Cullinan probably would have captained the side.

No matter how he tried to explain his position, the widespread feeling was that he'd chickened out of a confrontation with Warne. It was a completely pointless argument that forever tarnished him as a person and a player.

Still, he leaves memories of his batting, scores of innings and strokes effortlessly. I saw him bat many times, but the innings that stands out for me was the 94 he made at the Oval in 1994 as Devon Malcolm destroyed South Africa with nine for 57.

It was as if Cullinan was batting on a different pitch and against a different attack to his team-mates. Malcolm might have been bowling at medium pace for all the impact it made on Cullinan.

Perhaps that was Cullinan, though. He needed circumstances that allowed him to show he was better than everyone else. He was always a difficult bugger, but he could bat a bit.

Send your comments to Peter or discuss this column now in our debating forum.

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