ICC World Cup: Choking terminology is rubbish, says Daryll Cullinan
Star batter of the Hansie Cronje era sees India and South Africa as the two finalists of the 50-over ICC World Cup 2023
The unstoppable form of South Africa in the ongoing World Cup, barring one blip, certainly gives their fans enough reason to believe that they can stop the Indian juggernaut at Kolkata's Eden Gardens on Sunday — according to one of their star batters of the 1990s.
"I think we are looking at two finalists in India and South Africa," said Daryll Cullinan, a key member of the Proteas Army under Hansie Cronje at the 1996 and 1999 World Cups. ‘’India have the bases covered better than any other team in the tournament. They bat deep and have equal depth in their pace and spin attack, but the current South African team has the potential to beat them," said Cullinan, whose 337 still remains the highest individual first-class score in South African cricket.
Speaking to National Herald during an exclusive interview from Cape Town, the 56-year-old struck a positive outlook about his team’s fortunes — brushing aside any thoughts of being chokers again. "This choking terminology is rubbish, it’s past its sell-by date. It's a tag created by media and ignorant cricket followers, but we have moved on from there for two generations now," he said.
The Proteas arrived in the City of Joy on Thursday on the back of a whopping 190-run win against New Zealand in Pune, which saw the talismanic Quinton de Kock hammer his fourth century of the tournament and become the first batter to cross the 500-run mark in this edition.
They had been successful in following a template of outbatting their opponents by batting first, being aided by the form of their top six — their eight centuries so far emulating Sri Lanka’s record in the 2015 World Cup.
The form and the way De Kock has been pacing his onslaughts have raised a logical question as to whether the 30-year-old, a former captain, is calling time on international cricket too soon to focus on franchise cricket and more family time.
‘’When De Kock plays well, South Africa play well. When conditions are not easy for batting, he can still score quickly and not too many batters can do it — that’s what makes him such a brilliant talent. I am happy that he got that 170 upfront (against Sri Lanka) as he has often got out after getting to three figures. He is so critical for the success of his team that he needs to stay there and add another 30-40 runs after the century,’’ observed Cullinan.
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A member of the South African team which won the 1998 ICC Knockout Trophy (a predecessor of the Champions Trophy), the only ICC trophy the country has won till date, Cullinan was also all praise for Heinrich Klaasen — the wicketkeeper-batter who has been dealing a sucker punch at the backend of the innings.
"Klaasen has been one of my four batters for the tournament — along with Kohli, Gill and Conway. He has been actually one of the best white ball batters of the world, but I want to see him emulate someone like MS Dhoni — be more flexible and finish matches," he said.
In their seven matches so far, South Africa have betrayed an Achilles' heel on the two occasions they chased, losing to underdogs Netherlands and scraping a one-wicket win over Pakistan. Chasing has, in the past as well, often proved their undoing, and Cullinan has a word of advice for Bavuma and his men.
"In the past, they have often been quite rigid about chasing and bat as if they are setting a target. In cricket, it’s all about playing according to the situation and not be bothered about analytics. If you are batting deep and have far bigger players than we had, you should be more flexible with your approach," he said.
Another strength which adds to the X-factor of this South African team is that they have the best spin duo outside India and Afghanistan, at least on paper. The left-arm wrist spin of Tabraiz Shami and the mingy Keshav Maharaj can be difficult to get away in the middle overs but for Cullinan, they should try to play to their strengths first.
"Right now, this team’s strength is to strike upfront with Marco Jansen proving a valuable contributor. Shamsi may go for a few runs, but should focus on taking wickets, while Maharaj needs a bit of assistance from the wicket to be effective," Cullinan added.