<
>

'When the rebel cricketers came, it was like guys arriving from outer space'

play
Daryll Cullinan - Talking cricket - Episode 07 (23:05)

Daryll Cullinan - Talking cricket - Episode 07 (23:05)

Did you grow up in South Africa wanting to be a professional cricketer, knowing that the country was out of the world game?
Well, growing up one doesn't really fully understand firstly the politics of the day, and that there was a bigger game in terms of international cricket. We are pretty much isolated. You knew about it, but I would say your primary goal was to do well in first-class cricket. There was the ambition of playing county cricket because that could offer you a living.

Growing up I really enjoyed squash more, but my father said, no, no, you won't make a living out of playing squash, stick to your cricket. But we always had the intention to go on and study. So cricket became the means to get to university and qualify. But international cricket, no, didn't know much about it.

Here you are, a teenager, emerging and starting to catch the eye of coaches. You obviously had talent and a feel for the game, but you are saying you had no idea that there existed a higher plane of the game, the highest level of the game?
I grew up in a town called Queenstown. It was named after Queen Victoria. I went to a school named after her as well, Queens College. We had a really good, strong cricketing tradition. It was the school of Tony Greig, Kenny McEwan.

I had a longer relationship with professional cricketers from Sussex. So they would come over and spend the summer with us. Once a year, perhaps, we would see, I think it was a NatWest final, if it was still called that in those days. So that was the sum total of what we knew as international cricket, and that wasn't even Test cricket.

I remember our professional, Bob Jones, and he was at one stage head coach of the Lord's indoor school. And he really obviously loved cricket. So we formed a cricket society, and what he would do is, he'd bring over the old VHS tapes and we paid 50 cents in those days to be a member of the cricket society, and we sat there and we watched the highlights of whatever Test cricket had been there that summer. I think we got a cricket monthly at that stage - I think it would probably be what we know as the Wisden these days, a magazine?

So we were entirely cut off. Black people lived there, white people lived here, and you went to your own schools. There was no integration. Television only arrived, I think, in '76, '77, '78, and that was controlled. So we were conditioned to believe a certain thing. That probably played a role in, you know, doing well at first-class level and wanting to do well, because that in many ways was all the cricket someone like me knew. What I aspired to be was a very good first-class cricketer.

In '83, we went to England on a schoolboy tour. Which then would have been the South African Under-19 side, but we were known as the Albatross XI. We were not allowed to take any equipment - not even a shirt, nothing. We were just a group of young students travelling to the UK on a sightseeing, cultural, educational tour. Jimmy Cook was with us on that trip. It was a good side. We had Salieg Nackerdien, I think he was the only non-white cricketer we had in those days, and Shukri Conrad, he was the other one.

There was this great South African team, the last team that played international cricket before the isolation years began - Graeme Pollock and Ali Bacher and Mike Procter and names of that kind. As a young man, what were those influences like on your cricket? Were they big heroes in South Africa?
Well, my sort of era, it's early '70s, we were young kids, so we knew of them. Graeme Pollock was the icon. Barry [Richards] had left - he played most of his cricket in Australia and England, which Graeme never did. So he was the player that everyone looked up to, wanted to be, and was a true star. And we didn't quite understand and appreciate how good he was, when I speak of my generation. I played against him and he was at the end of his career then. Once we had got back into international cricket, you actually realised and appreciated them.

I remember our first tour to England. As an England tour goes, there's a lot of functions, and the major one was at a hotel at Piccadilly Circus. Mike Procter was the coach and Graeme had been following the tour. So they were invited to this luncheon and the team was introduced, and when Mike Procter was introduced, they stood up, and when Graeme was introduced, the audience stood up. They obviously knew who Barry was, and they remembered Graeme's innings at Trent Bridge when he got that brilliant 120-odd under those conditions, which was an exceptional knock. But in terms of influence, in terms of where we were going, not knowing that we'd ever get back into international cricket, it was not something that you believed was going to happen. It was: well, that's it, that's just our lot, and if you wanted to play international cricket, you would look elsewhere - either England or New Zealand or Australia, which I seriously considered.

So I think to answer your question, it's not like a kid growing up today, who is growing up with international cricket. He knows who the superstars are and it's a different world.

"Because things were so tightly controlled and segregated, there was no violence in those days. But with the political uprising in the middle '80s, you started to be aware. Suddenly it was a whole new world"

Here you are, an extremely talented batsman and already comparisons with Graeme Pollock start to come about. What was that like for a 15- or 16-year-old, to suddenly be compared to the greatest batsman South Africa has produced?
Yes, I think to a large degree it was because of isolation - they were looking for heroes. I was 16 when I broke his record [South Africa's youngest first-class century-maker], so obviously that caught the attention and comparisons were made, but it didn't take long to realise that those comparisons were a little bit unfair. It just was the nature of our cricket, but it kind of made me sit up and say, look, you've got a future, you can play, so, right, where does it take me?

Let's talk a little bit about apartheid. Were you inherently aware that this is a white man's sport, divided along those lines, that cricket is a very much what white boys do, and other members of society are actually kept away from the game? Was that very much part of the culture of how you grew up in South Africa?
Very much part of the culture. If you looked upon it, that's just the way it was. Being white, I went to a white school and played cricket at that school, played all our sports. Black kids grew up in the townships, and that's where they played. We always grew up with the belief that there was equality in our society, that's what you thought.

You didn't think it was unfair?
I didn't know better, to be honest with you. At school, politics of the day were taught as per the nationalist government. Even when I got to university and there were rumblings - that was the middle '80s, when things were really starting to hot up and there was unrest in the township, and I had friends who'd done their military training.

It was like I said to people: I have two halves in my life, two halves in my career - grew up in that era and now I grew up in this one. And if people say, tell me about your career, I'd say, "Well it's been a very interesting one", but as a young white South African growing up, no, and we didn't see anything abnormal about that. We didn't think we needed to do something about [apartheid], because around you, what you read, what you saw, who you interacted with - that's just the way it kind of was.

Did you never play cricket with black kids? Were there any black kids?
Never.

You never came across anyone, any coloured kids? None of them came and played cricket with you?
No. I often think about it today. Where I grew up, the public playing facilities, which are now part of the school that I went to, was called the recreational ground, and they had two rugby fields. In summer it was a cricket field and alongside it was a soccer field. It was literally 100 metres down the road, and with nothing better to do during the holidays, our days were sport.

So you went out and whatever you found, you could play, whether it was cricket, tennis, squash. And it was winter time, so we'd pick up a game of rugby among a couple of friends and I would have been ten, 11 at that stage. Touch rugby - we'd play for an hour. I remember one holiday, there were about four black kids who came and played with us. They joined in and we spent an hour or two playing and then went home and my Mum would have a lunch for us and that sort of thing. And they were brilliant and their company was great, and we, like kids, had a fantastic time. And then we would sort of arrange, you know: are you guys coming the next day? And we would say 10 o'clock and they would come at 12, and I couldn't understand why, so it was very disappointing for us, and [we thought] perhaps they didn't want to play with us or this and that.

But then in time I got to understand that it was because they would be coming into a white area. That was a boiling pot of South African politics. There was the ZAPU, which was the real right wing of the [anti-apartheid] movement. Late '80s they planted a few bombs. So I understood later that they [the black kids] would be dodging the police, and if they got caught, they'd be chucked in the back of a van and maybe given a hiding or driven back to the townships. And there were times in the afternoon when they said, we've got to go now. We were, "Well, come on, play." No, no, we have to go now. Because there would be a curfew, so they didn't want to be caught after dark. It left an impression on my mind, and when I think back on it, you [realise] how shameful it was, how hurtful it would have been. It was a huge, huge travesty really. And in many ways we lost so much talent.

"In my second season with Border, I batted against Sylvester Clarke with half a helmet, not much of a thigh pad, as a kid. I get cold today when I think about it"

All these years later that now seems to be a grotesquely unfair time, but back then, as a 14- or 15-year-old, it was just the way things were - is that what you're saying?
When you tell people that, they say, "No, come on." But it was, you know, it was indoctrination. That's just the shadow that we grew up under, not knowing better, not understanding better, your parents not knowing better. It was the - in Afrikaans it was the swart gevaar, the black danger. PW Botha was then the prime minister and there was a war going on in Angola [involving] our troops, who supported South West Africa, which is Namibia today. And friends of mine fought in that. You had the swart gevaar, the black danger, and there was the whole, you know, it was communistic and [there was the idea that] they were coming in to, like, take over the country. Because things were so tightly controlled and segregated, there was no violence in those days. But with the political uprising in the middle '80s, you started to be aware, and at that stage I was at university. Suddenly it was a whole new world.

What was the arrival of the rebel-tour cricketers like for you? What kind of impression did it leave, especially because some of them were truly world-class, top-notch players?
The Sri Lankans arrived, Tony Opatha's touring squad. He arrived as the manager and by the third "Test" was their best bowler, because they really battled. I ran into guys like [Graeme] Pollock, who were still hungry, and we had a good team around then. The national broadcaster televised all those games. Then, once the West Indians arrived, I was in my final year at school and got out to watch quite a bit of that.

It was like, suddenly here are black cricketers so skilled and so good. Was that an eye-opener?
Well, absolutely. We thought, hang on, there's going to be bombs going off here. These guys are now going to travel around the country. Where are they going to stay? They can't stay in white hotels. What are the extremists going to say? So they actually became honorary whites and they were so loved, but all these sorts of things, it was like guys arriving from outer space. And I'm not exaggerating.

But we were so hungry for cricket. I think that was the huge excitement: come on, let's just play cricket. I mean, guys like Collis King, he was - in '76, I think, he was a hero - the brand of cricket they played. I mean [Sylvester] Clarke - in my second season with Border, I batted against him with half a helmet, not much of a thigh pad, as a kid. I get cold today when I think about it.

They created enormous excitement. We were so hungry. We could have watched anything. Lawrence Rowe, and the style of cricket they played…

Do you remember that time as being particularly challenging? There was, of course, a lot of opposition to the idea of playing any kind of cricket against a regime such as South Africa, but within the country itself?
We weren't made aware of that. It wasn't spoken about, certainly not on television and in the media, because it was state-controlled. The resistance that you saw when [Mike] Gatting's tour came [in 1989-90] and I played in Pietermaritzburg… There was a huge black crowd, and we can get to that because that's an interesting story, but again the opportunity or the platform for those who were against those tours, for that particular tour and the Sri Lankan tour and the first English tour [to make themselves heard], it wasn't there. With the clampdown it was just not going to happen.

So there was no idea that these guys were risking their international careers, they were going to get banned in their country…
No, we kind of got that. But it wasn't sort of a struggle between what's right and wrong, and should we or not. They've given us the best cricket present in 25, 27 years, this is fun, let's get going to play cricket, you know. The resistance to it, we weren't aware of it, because it wasn't reported, it wasn't seen. You were just in that sort of space, not knowing - we weren't sort of totally blind to it but did not really know what was actually happening.

Watch and read part two of the interview here

Watch ESPNcricinfo Talking Cricket at 9.30pm IST on Fridays and the repeat on 12 noon on Sunday on SONYESPN