Daryll Cullinan

'Sport was our life'

On growning up a child prodigy, being South Africa's next big thing ... and fronting up to Shane Warne

Interview by Nagraj Gollapudi

'You need to be hit once or twice before you understand that it's not really that painful' Shailesh Mule

The first tour I went on, we had 29 Test caps - all of them Kepler Wessels's Test caps. I was happiest when I was hitting balls.

Age matters to selectors and to people who play a major role in cricket but don't understand how the game works. That's dangerous because they all work by numbers. Form, fitness, energy and value-addition to the team supersede age by a long way.

Growing up as a child prodigy, being talked about as the next great, having broken Graeme Pollock's record [youngest South African first-class centurion]... when you're young you don't understand that a lot of it is media hype, and that they are just looking for another story. Back then, since we weren't playing international cricket, there were no real stories.

I don't think we've ever been given enough credit. We did a hell of a job: we were a bunch of rookies and we very quickly put South Africa on the map - within a couple of years we were right up there.

Hansie Cronje was a hard-working cricketer who lived for cricket. He was charming. He had it all.

You need to be hit once or twice before you understand that it's not that painful.

I am not entirely convinced that bowlers aren't as good as they used to be - maybe the batsmen have improved. I don't think it's good for cricket if people keep saying, "It's not as good as it was." You do the game a total discredit.

Consistency, the ability to think better than anybody else under pressure, skills, and belief - that's greatness.

For me, technically and mentally, weaving between both forms of the game was difficult. Playing a lot of one-day cricket deteriorates your skills at Test cricket, especially your defensive abilities. Matthew Hayden comes to mind - too much one-day cricket affected his Test form quite badly.

I invited Shane Warne to my benefit dinner two days before the 2003 World Cup and it was fantastic.

The worst abuse I suffered on the cricket field in terms of sledging was as a 16-year-old.

I couldn't understand some cricketers who had the attitude, "I don't want to make enemies." If your team requires that you stand your ground, you need to do it. It is not about your personality; it is for the team.

If I think of Australia and Test cricket, I failed - and maybe it pushed me up to another level as a cricketer. Often I hear or read about Cullinan and [Shane] Warne, or Cullinan and Australia. People don't understand that I had a very good one-day record against them, where I averaged around 35.

Sport was our life. We caught it, we threw it, we hit it, we kicked it, from morning to night.

In Pakistan once, Javed Miandad took me to a ground with a broken concrete wicket. For two hours he spoke about how they played on the wicket using different balls, how they learned to play spin, and the use of the wrists - that was the most fascinating two hours of cricket in my life.

Purpose, meaning, values - if you think of all that, you think of cricket, because cricket encompasses all of that.

I would love to say that I'd like to play till the day I die, but when I think of all the work that goes into it, no. Mental toughness is the ability to manage your fears, your insecurities, your doubt. It's how you deal with all those things using concentration, techniques, coping methods, and the ability to distract yourself.

When you linger without new goals, new aspirations, you struggle. That's something I have seen in players who failed to move on.

It is not in my nature to look back.

Brian Lara has been the most astonishing player of this era, Sachin Tendulkar the best equipped one. Graeme Pollock had a unique style - when he hit a cover-drive, people went to see that.

Facing fast bowling is instinctive.

I refused to sweep. I was taught that it was not a percentage shot, and that was one of my problems against Warne.

South Africa are yet to find an identity. We probably lean more towards the Australian way of playing cricket. I don't think it's us. We are battling to find out.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo