March 1, 2002

Cullinan stakes claim for Test recall

Daryll Cullinan served notice that he is ready for a Test match recall with a measured 86 on the opening day of the South African `A' team's four-day match against Australia at St George's Park on Friday.

Cullinan shared a 155-run fourth-wicket partnership with Hashim Amla, the South African under 19 captain, as the SA `A' team reached 288 for seven. There was something of a collapse in the evening, but the pair did enough to suggest that there is still a bit left in South African after one of the gloomiest weeks since readmission.

Always a complex character, Cullinan said afterwards that he felt he still had something to offer, particularly against Australia. "Playing against Australia is one of the challenges you look forward to," he said afterwards. "I wouldn't be playing the game if I didn't want those challenges and the successes and failures that go with them."

As importantly, perhaps, Cullinan, who is captaining this SA `A', said his team had gone into this match wanting to be at least competitive. "We want to at least leave Port Elizabeth with some respect for the way we played," he said, adding that he was happy with the attitude shown by his team.

All of this, of course, took place against the backdrop of last weekend's humiliating first Test match, won by Australia by an innings and 360 runs. Inevitably there will be changes to the South African Test team, and the most obvious inclusion after just one day in this match is the recall of Cullinan.

He averages less than 13 against Australia, but he has been South Africa's leading batsman for the past 10 years and although he has suffered probably more than many at the hands of Australia, and Shane Warne in particular, it is no secret that he wishes to set the record straight against the world's best Test team before the end of his career.

With him, for just short of three hours, was Amla, still only 18 and playing in only his third first-class game. His contribution to the effort was a wonderfully composed 81 and he played well enough to earn plaudits from his captain.

Cullinan warned, though, that Amla should not be rushed into Test cricket. "I'd never seen him play before," admitted Cullinan. "He will play Test cricket, but I hope the selectors don't rush him. Let him take his own time, but he will play Test cricket."

Coming after both Graeme Smith and Jacques Rudolph had played themselves in only to get out, the batting of Cullinan and Amla against an attack admittedly short of Warne and Glenn McGrath saved the day for the South Africans.

Smith and Rudolph are clearly high on the selectors' next-best list, but both will have done their cause little good by failing to build on stars. Smith got himself out, providing Shane Watson with his first wicket for Australia when he pulled an innocuous short one to mid-on for 28.

And after batting through the first session, Rudolph twice hit Stuart MacGill for four in the lunch over before jabbing at one to be caught at the wicket for 36. It was hardly the best possible time to get out.

Martin van Jaarsveld made only 11 before falling soon after lunch to set the Cullinan-Amla stand on its way and three wickets fell for only three either side of the second new ball before bad light stopped play six overs early.

Cullinan said he was a little disappointed by Watson, who picked up two for 40 on debut, saying that he had expected something more. He did want to reserve judgement, though, until he had seen Watson bat.

Amla, meanwhile, had had his first sight of Brett Lee. And he was, admitted Amla, every bit as quick as he'd been led to believe.