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When little Dave Callaghan went big

Dave Callaghan bats Dave Callaghan

Once or twice in a lifetime, a batsman will play an innings of such thoughtless brilliance that he's at a loss to know where it's come from. Each innings in this category takes some of its shape from the batsman's personality. Mike Atherton, for example, played an innings of cussed charm against South Africa at the Wanderers in late 1995. His 185 not out was long, stubborn and heroically restrained. No one else could have played in quite the same way.

A little less than a year before that, up the road at Centurion, Dave Callaghan played another type of memorable innings - the quick blaze, the shooting star - all the more remarkable for being so quickly and absolutely forgotten. South Africa were in the midst of a prolonged quadrangular series against Pakistan, New Zealand and Sri Lanka that lasted from early December 1994 until the middle of January 1995. Against the run of things, Callaghan was pushed into service at the top of the order.

"Hansie [Cronje] came to me after the Saturday game [against Pakistan at the Wanderers] in which Gary [Kirsten] and Andrew [Hudson] had opened and sort of raised the possibility that I might play the next day," remembers Callaghan. "Gary had been struggling slightly and they were looking for a proper batsman to give the innings some impetus up front. Bob [Woolmer] and Hansie were always thinking about things, always experimenting, there was very much that kind of attitude around the side at the time, and I was keen.

"I was usually a pretty sound sleeper but I don't think I slept as soundly that Saturday night as I usually did."

New Zealand's last game had been against Sri Lanka in Bloemfontein a couple of days previously. Sanath Jayasuriya had opened for Sri Lanka and carved the New Zealand bowlers to all corners of the largest ground in South Africa, scoring 140 in 143 balls with nine fours and six sixes. Richard de Groen had figures of 10-0-75-0. Callaghan remembers that the South African management took note of the innings but doesn't give the idea that it made too much of an impression. He was aware, however, that the New Zealand attack - de Groen, Simon Doull, Chris Pringle and Chris Harris - was ill suited to the harder Highveld wickets. "We got there on the Sunday and the track was just like glass," Callaghan says. "Those Kiwi attacks needed a bit of give in the wicket. They liked it when perhaps it wasn't coming onto the bat as the batsmen would like, and Centurion wasn't really like that - it was just perfect for batting."

"One guy came on with a two-litre bottle of Coke and I remember being so thirsty that I just grabbed it out of his hand. The problem was that I think there was more brandy in that bottle than Coke"

Callaghan was part of a talented group of South African allrounders - Brian McMillan, Hansie Cronje, Richard Snell, Eric Simons, Steven Jack and Mike Rindel - but if you were neither Cronje nor McMillan, there was precious little job security for you and your allrounder kind. Callaghan would bounce up and down the batting order and boomerang in and out of the side. It was both the best and the worst of times, so he knew when Cronje opted to bat first that it was time to take advantage.

That said, he wasn't greedy. He never set his sights above getting fifty, and when Hudson, his opening partner, went early, a half-century looked an awfully long way off.

"Andrew cut it down Mark Priest's throat off Doull at third man early on and I played exactly the same shot to get off the mark a little later. I got away with a one-bounce four but ten metres either way and I might have followed Andrew to the pavilion. I just had an inkling that it was going to be my day."

Callaghan and Cronje, the next man in, put on 149 for the second wicket. They knew each other well, and Callaghan was buoyed by the fact that his captain clearly had faith in him.

"The previous season, I think it was, I'd played for Rochdale in the Central Lancashire League," says Callaghan. "Hansie had played as Norden's overseas pro and the two clubs were virtually neighbours. We trained together and although I was slightly older, we became mates. Towards the end of the season we'd train together in preparation for our return to South Africa, running sprints and shuttles and even doing some 400m laps."

As the innings unfolded, Callaghan stepped into a sacred realm. Everything he tried came off. He was driving well and hitting it crisply through square on the off side - his bread-and-butter shot. He'd always liked batting at Centurion because it provides value for shots, and he became aware that there was no need to hit the ball too hard, as opposed to simply stroke it into the gaps he seemed to find everywhere he looked.

Sensing a growing imperiousness, Doull tried to bounce him as he came on for his second spell. It didn't work. As a small man, Callaghan was always a good puller and cutter and the strategy ended as quickly as it had begun.

"We watched Doull, obviously, but the guy we were aware of was Pringle," Callagahan says. "His second spell was impressive: he was one of the first cricketers to bowl slower balls and slower bouncers. If you'd talked to us about slower-ball bouncers in those days, we would have thought you had rocks in the head."

With the total on 159, Cronje (68) holed out to Bryan Young in the deep off the offspinner Shane Thomson, bringing Daryll Cullinan to the wicket.

"I remember us coming down for a mid-pitch chat between overs and him saying: 'Look, you can get a hundred here'," Callaghan says. "I looked at him before it sunk in and then I thought to myself, 'Yes, he's right, isn't he. I can get a hundred too.'"

With the seed planted, Callaghan snuck up on a century. He had been in this position of total command a couple of times before. He remembers once hitting a Clive Rice beamer over the Firestone Pavilion at St George's Park for six. Now, again, he found that everything he touched came off. If fine leg and third man were brought up, Callaghan would find a way to ease the ball past them; if they were placed on the boundary, he somehow managed to find the ropes. Eventually, three figures hove into view. Callaghan brought up his century with a lap off Mark Priest down to fine leg for two. "Hansie was one of the first guys to get up and start clapping in the dressing room. He was so pleased for me. He was supportive throughout."

There was no standing back after Callaghan had hauled himself onto the summit of a hundred. Several mortar-like lobs sailed over the long-on boundary off Doull. Callaghan destroyed the left-arm seamer, Murphy Su'a, and milked Thomson through midwicket.

"Those were still the days when fans could flood over the boundary, and a whole wave of them came onto the square to congratulate me on reaching my 150," says Callaghan. "One guy came on with a two-litre bottle of Coke and I remember being so thirsty that I just grabbed it out of his hand. The problem was that I think there was more brandy in that bottle than Coke. Sometimes I pull out the video and my son and I watch it and I tell him that was the day when I celebrated my 150 with a brandy."

Thanks, in part, to their victory over New Zealand in that match, South Africa marched into the final of the Mandela Trophy. Callaghan opened in the first final with Kirsten, falling to Aaqib Javed for 4. Two days later at the Wanderers, Cronje and Woolmer were rearranging things yet again - Callaghan losing his position as opener to another of his allrounder ilk, Rindel. The left-hander, known as Guava for his habit of going pink in the sun, eased to a maiden ODI hundred and was involved in an opening stand of 190 with Kirsten (87). Callaghan was back in the familiar middle-order netherworld, scoring 7 not out.

Chasing 267, Pakistan could only muster 109, with Fanie de Villiers and Allan Donald sharing six wickets between them. It was a comprehensive victory against a gun Pakistan side, South Africa's embarrassment of allrounder riches meaning that Callaghan's crisp, brandy-slugging brilliance was quickly overshadowed by other things. He played his last ODI six years later, never scoring a fifty, let alone a hundred, his 169 not out so oddly miraculous that it must feel like an innings in a dream.

07:25:30 GMT, August 22, 2016: The summary for the article originally identified Callaghan as a wicketkeeper-batsman