The batsman's art is one full of self-persecution, obsession and satisfaction. Martin Crowe and Daryll Cullinan discuss
There is only so much you can learn about the game by watching. What you see can sometimes be deceptive. Martin Crowe and Daryll Cullinan were such picture-perfect batsmen that it would have been reasonable to assume that batting came easy to them. But as we got to know Marty and DJ, two endearing, funny yet intense men, the multi-layered truth about their days in combat gear gradually revealed itself. On the cricket field their paths intersected only six times - in a full series in South Africa in 1994-95, and in a solitary Test in New Zealand a few months later. Yet when we brought them together in our Bangalore studio during the World T20 in 2014, it became evident, to them and us, that they had more in common than just being elite batsmen of their times. Their conversation was not merely an illuminating study of the mental process of batting but also offered compelling portraits of two outstanding modern cricketers who turned out to be reassuringly human, their journeys paved with self-doubt, worry, and fear - of both failure and success.
Sambit Bal: Do you choose batting or does batting choose you?
Martin Crowe: Well, I think batting chose me. I had a brother four years older than me and I had a father who played first-class cricket briefly. When I look back as a six-year old, my brother, being nine or ten, was already in the backyard and batting. When I came along, I started to bowl but I wanted to be like him. I looked up to him, so I wanted to bat. My father wanted to coach us both. I was intrigued with batting and I read a lot as a young boy about the greats in the Wisdens that Dad had lying around. He often talked about the great players that he had seen and admired. I was in an environment that led me to think and dream about batting. At the age of eight, I said to my dad that I am going to score a century at Lord's one day.
Daryll Cullinan: I had a brother four and a half years older than me. There was one rule when we played cricket and that was to bat first. One day he got me out early and I hit him over the head with the bat. I was just a small guy starting out and learning how to bowl, but when I got to about 15, I could not get it to the other side quick enough. It was just a natural progression to keep working on the batting.
SB: At the age of 15 or 16, Daryll was compared to Barry Richards and Martin to Jeff Crowe. What was it like to deal with that sort of pressure?
MC: It was a bit of a shock because at the age of 15 I was travelling along nicely. I was doing okay, nothing special, learning about the game. My brother Jeff went to Adelaide after school to learn from Ian Chappell and David Hookes. All of a sudden I was under the spotlight. "We can't lose Martin," people said, "having already lost Jeff." As a result I got picked in the teams that he would have got picked in. It was like changing the initials on the score sheets.
At the age of 15, I was in the squad for the Under-23 team, mixing with 21- and 22-year-olds. That was horrific. They were drinking beer and out late. So it was a very strange and scary place. I did not score a run for three or four years, except at my level, but they kept picking me because they could see potential. It started to shape my mind and it started to create a lot of fear and expectation. I had a dream but I didn't know if I could do it.
"I always thought of batting in Test cricket like hanging over a cliff on a cotton thread. It may have felt kinda easy at times, but no, I didn't enjoy it"
SB: Did that stay with you for a long time?
MC: That stayed with me till 50 actually.
DC: Ours was more situational. We weren't playing international cricket - we were out of international cricket. I made my first-class debut in 1983. Cricket and sports were a means to an end; to get a degree, to open doors, to get a job, and that is all we knew. Before my first Test match, when I was 12th man against India in Port Elizabeth, I had seen three days of Test cricket in my life.
Although the expectations were there, the bigger questions weren't there for guys like myself till the age of 25. In many ways, it was a small world.
SB: How did the idea of becoming a great batsman take shape?
MC: That dream specifically originated from Martin Donnelly, who scored 206 runs at Lord's in 1949. My dad named me after Martin Donnelly. And I was a natural right-hander anyway. I just carried that dream through. Yes, I wanted to be a great batsman and I got completely and utterly obsessed with batting and cricket, and then it all got fast-tracked. They got me through but it became a confused environment. A confused mind, I should say.
SB: Daryll, you found yourself on the international scene and in a couple of years you were accepted as one of the best in that era and certainly the best in the South African team at that point. What was it like, dealing with that?
DC: Our greatest goal at that time was to put South Africa back on the map. So it wasn't driven by a personal desire. I started when I was 25, when I debuted against India at Newlands in January 1993. I would turn 26 in March. And I said, when I walk away from Test cricket, there are two things I wanted - to play everybody home and away, and ten Test hundreds. I thought, well that's all right. We didn't really have an idea of where it was going.
Thankfully we were very competitive because we had a very, very good first-class structure. It was tough cricket, some of the toughest cricket I have ever played.
SB: In Martin's case he wanted to be great. You were grateful for what you were getting.
DC: Absolutely. Back then there were players who didn't play, guys like Barry [Richards]. Graeme [Pollock] played 23 Tests. Kenny McEwan, Peter Kirsten, Clive Rice... I just happened to be born at the right time to catch something. So I cannot for a moment be regretful for anything. And we moved into an era where we could make a living out of it.
SB: So you were not tormented like Martin.
DC: Batting is a life of torment. It's a life of self- persecution. It's a love-hate relationship.
SB: Love-hate relationship with what? Yourself?
DC: The game. (Laughs)
Crowe: "I had a routine of walking out to the middle and seeing the first ball out of the hand"
© ESPNcricinfo Ltd
Crowe: "I had a routine of walking out to the middle and seeing the first ball out of the hand" © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
SB: Did batting or your career shape your personality in any way? Are you the person that you are because you were a batsman for so long?
DC: Now that I have retired, I am hopefully a better person. Looking back, it was all only about batting. I was very, very self-obsessed. Focus, tension, the pursuit of excellence: it was all about that, at the detriment to all that was happening around me. At the same time that was my strength. There has to be an element of belief in someone who wants to achieve, but on the other side it's a curse. Because for everything there's a give and take, and at that time I didn't quite understand the meaning of give.
MC: Yeah, I relate to that a lot. I think it shaped my personality totally. From a 15-year-old playing sports outdoors, a loving family kid with an intrigue for life, to being a very single-minded, focused, obsessed, aloof person that was just trying to pursue his goals.
SB: Can it also make you selfish in your private life?
MC: Yeah, it's my second name (laughs). And once that took hold, this obsession and pursuit of goals, everything else came second - family, friends, it all paled into insignificance. When I look back now, I just realise I missed out a lot in my life, and I thought I was pleasing everyone. I was trying to please my parents and brother and sister. And then I was trying to please society and then the country, by scoring runs! That was my job. To be accepted and to be liked and loved and admired... it wasn't enough. I wanted more. I had to break every record, and it was all such an illusion. And I lived a life full of illusions.
I told myself that a 150 was going to assure friendship or love, and that it was going to make me feel good about myself. That's when the torture and torment began. I didn't understand till about 50 - when I had cancer - that I had lived a life of illusion, of wanting people to like me through a pursuit. And in the end, at the age of 50, I hated myself, and that's when it was about time I started to accept who I was. So I went on a path of finding out exactly who I was. But for all my cricket career, I was a batsman on a mission with no clue at all.
DC: Listening to Martin talk, I remember when I was 16. My first big match was against Transvaal, the Mean Machine, at the Wanderers. The Bullring. A full house. And I came from a small rural town, had played cricket only at school, and suddenly it was my first big exposure.
And walking down, the abuse that I got! You know the Wanderers, you walk down those steep steps, and it's not like today where they've got the dome covering it. It was just a fence, and people were hanging over the fence... And I thought to myself, what have I done to deserve that? No one knows me. And sadly that led to a shutdown. I didn't become accessible. I was an introvert and this made the situation even worse, which over time - being spoken of as being this and that - it didn't really do me a favor.
It was an emotional experience to actually learn to cope with this. That's why I just marvel at a guy like Tendulkar. I was quite a young cricketer when I started, but at the same age, Tendulkar was getting hundreds, he was touring the world. It's remarkable.
"To be accepted and to be liked and loved and admired... it wasn't enough. I wanted more. I had to break every record, and it was all such an illusion. And I lived a life full of illusions"
MC: That's probably the difference between societies... I think we had this whole world in front of us, it wasn't just cricket. There were girls, drinking, and socialising, and you were trying to cope with all of that. I think Sachin's world was a little more protected. Of course, he was special too.
When I played for New Zealand when I was 19, against Lillee and Thomson, I rattled off scores of 9, 2, 0 and 9. And then I ran up to the far north of New Zealand to be with my sister. I couldn't face anyone in public. And then I finally went down to the pub to play a game of pool. At the bar there was this big Maori man, and he said, "Hey, Crowe! I hope you can play pool better than you can play cricket."
I was trapped. I couldn't go anywhere. This was the farthest pub in New Zealand, and in that moment I realised I had to fix this problem of failure.
And so I ran off to England and I began asking everyone that played how to bat. From Sunny Gavaskar to Pollock, to whoever it was. I worked on footwork, to get into position, my backlift, and every single detail against the moving ball, the bouncing ball, the spinning ball. And that was my mission from that point. I set goals, I visualised, I learnt sports psychology, because I didn't want to hear that voice yelling out to me, "I hope you can play pool better than you can play cricket."
SB: Cricket is a team game but batting is a very lonely thing. When the bowler is bowling, he's got fielders around him. Does the loneliness of batting make you a lonely man? Does it affect you in your daily life? Are you more insular?
MC: It did make me more insular, it made me narrow-minded. Batting was first, daylight was second, and then my relationships came. I realised when I became captain that I had a lot of work to do. To talk to my batting partner would be a start. Before that I didn't talk to anyone, I was busy talking to myself in my head. I would wake up with thoughts on how I had to play, and I would go to bed with thoughts as to how I had played and how I had to fix it.
SB: How did you prepare for batting? How did you prepare mentally?
DC: It did start in the nets, quite frankly. Preparation involved looking at whom I was up against, where I was playing. I was going to study all the Test matches played at that venue - the first-innings scores, the second-innings scores, who were the run scorers, who were the wicket-takers, what were the scoring rates, the averages. And that kind of developed a picture.
In the second half of my career I would practise only when I wanted to, or felt like it. I had come from the age when people said, if you don't practise everyday, you're not gonna make it, and I realised that wasn't working. So there were three fundamentals that I found worked for me - my balance, knowing where my off stump is, and knowing that my defence was in order.
There were Test matches where it wasn't working out. I just wasn't getting runs. And I called on Steve Waugh. We had just finished a Test match in Johannesburg and he had battled [back to form]. And I said, "I want one answer from you: what changed things?" And he said, "I changed the way I practised."
The three fundamentals of Cullinan's batting: balance, knowing where his off stump was, and getting his defence in order
© Getty Images
The three fundamentals of Cullinan's batting: balance, knowing where his off stump was, and getting his defence in order © Getty Images
It made me go back and take a look at all my stats. How long I took to get my hundreds, how many balls I faced. And I came to the conclusion that for the majority of my innings, I was defending or leaving the ball. And in the majority of my practice, I was playing shots. So I went back and just practised my defence, balance, and where my off stump was. And when that was in order, I was fine.
On the mental side, I did a lot of visualisation. I felt that was important, to live in the day and moment. I could smell the sunblock. I could be lying in my bed and feel the heat in my shoulders. And then visualise the ground. I also met a sports psychologist who was a very good friend, Ken Jennings. So he knew me quite well, and for me what he identified was, I needed to slow down. I was too quick, I was too anxious.
So I'd start two or three days before, take everything slow, slowing my life, just slowing everything down. On the morning of every game I would get there first. I always wanted to be first at the ground. And my preparation was slow, sitting in the dressing room, relaxing and taking in the day. I would drive slowly, think slowly, eat slowly.
MC: I started with a mask. I was bluffing. I had fear and a lot of negative thoughts, and I was pretty much like Daryll, trying to slow it down, trying to get control of my thoughts. And so I needed that mask on for a while. I had this thing where I went out to the pitch the day before, away from everyone, sometimes in my full gear, and I would play an innings in my head. Twenty minutes at one end and 20 minutes at the other, or I sat on the roller and imagined the opposition bowlers. I sometimes went to the opposition practice to watch the bowlers, to know where the ball was coming out from, and I would take that out to the middle. But I just wanted to get the feel of where that ball was, because if I didn't see that ball from ball one, I knew my day was over.
SB: So you were watching the release points of bowlers?
MC:That became the critical moment, where my whole being was on that point where the arm was about to release the ball. I used affirmations to stop the flow of thought. I used very slow affirmations. When I saw the bowler get to the end of his run, I sort of went, "This ball, this ball, this ball." As I took my stance, I would say, "Soft hands, soft hands." And then I would say, "Head still, head still." And I would say, "Watch the ball, watch the ball, watch the ball."
I learnt that if I did that slowly and effectively, no other thought was going to jump in and say, "Good luck mate, you're going to get out", or "He's going to bounce you", or "He's gonna bowl short."
I was lucky in my practice that I had Richard Hadlee to line me up. No one could quite understand why I wanted to bat when Hadlee was bowling in the nets. And the secret was that he was lining me up on my off stump. And that's what prepared me to face Marshall, Akram and Waqar and the rest of the greats around the world.
SB: What is it like waiting to bat? You both batted at No. 4 and had no clue when you were to get in.
MC: I used to sleep a lot. I sometimes anticipated that I would be going out at 20 for 2, and often I was. But if John Wright and Andrew Jones got going, I went to sleep. And it was a half-sleep. I'd just ask someone to wake me up [when it was my turn]. A cold, wet towel would get me up on my feet, and I would be out there really quickly. Just to build up a sense of energy, I would bluff the opposition that I was in a hell of a good shape today. I stood tall. And this was a Greg Chappell tip. He said no matter how you feel, body language is crucial, and the opposition will start to believe it.
"There has to be an element of belief, but on the other side it's a curse. For everything there's a give and take, I didn't quite understand the meaning of give"
So I had a routine of walking out to the middle and seeing the first ball right out of the hand. I had this ten-year period where runs came consistently, when the fear of failure left and the fear of success took over. I reached a point where I could not keep succeeding. It was too hard. I couldn't get out of bed thinking, "I have to do this again and the team needed me to do this." The older I got, the expectations grew higher and higher. I could see teams going for me. I could even see umpires going for me. (Laughs)
Certainly the media. And so I actually collapsed under the fear of success. I couldn't do it anymore, it was enough. My body gave up, my mind gave up, my nerves gave up.
SB: Did you guys actually enjoy batting?
MC: For ten years.
DC: I only enjoyed the result, because a lot went into it. A bit like Andre Agassi in tennis. I always thought of batting in Test cricket like hanging over a cliff on a cotton thread, where you say, "Please don't break." It may have felt kinda easy at times, but no, I didn't enjoy it. Perhaps when I got 120 or 150, but I didn't see that a hell of a lot in my life.To me it was just the art of self-deception.
MC: I had moments of pure joy. When you were up against a Marshall and matching him because you prepared well, and in that moment and zone... that was amazing, that's what made everything worthwhile. It started with Hadlee at the domestic level and in the nets, and I was able to transfer that to facing Marshall or Wasim Akram. Anyone less than those guys, it got to a point where it was a chore. You get to the point where you say, what am I gaining from it apart from churning out runs - which would have been important, but sometimes they're not. And then it starts getting to consequences. Like, if I get out to him, what are they [the media] gonna say?
SB: It's such a stop-start game, cricket. Only about 30 minutes of action actually happens in a day's play. So when you are batting, how do you switch on and off?
DC: My highest Test innings was against New Zealand, 275. And in those 11 hours, our video analyst clipped every ball - the shot of a bowler running in, and a shot being played. And that total was only 16 minutes.
MC: As described earlier, you get into that routine. I never sledged or looked at anyone. I learned a routine where I was conserving energy, so that I had lots of energy for later, and I tried not to think and I started to focus on my senses, which kept me in the now. So just for the next 20-30 seconds I was just turning this off and turning my senses on. Every touch or sight or smell, then my breath, and then this ball.
DC: I mentioned the point that I was isolated, and information-wise I was isolated as well. We had a good South African golfer, David Frost, who played on the PGA tour. And he loved cricket. Concentration and energy, you've only got so much, and when it's intense you've got only 20-30 minutes. So I asked him, "How do you guys do it?" Because golf is a lot like batting. And he's lived in America, so he's seen that big world with a lot of information, hell of a lot more than we had. So I worked on my thinking and came up with a plan after that. Just look around, look up at the families up there, and then come back [to the bowler]. I also had some keywords. Watch the ball was W, play straight was an S.
Going back to the discussion with David Frost - he said golfers sometimes make notes, they'll write in their book and take it out. I used to write "W" and "S" on my glove, just to keep going back to that step by step, because I was someone who didn't like to be trapped. Breathing was so, so important to me, because the oxygen goes to the brain...
SB: I have always been fascinated with watching batsmen walk to the wicket. Somebody has got out, to a terrific ball perhaps, and you're two down and need 300 to win. Is it the same thing you feel every time you go out to bat or are your thoughts tempered by circumstances?
MC: It's the same, as I said. It was like a switch, the electrics started to work and out I went. It was fast to start with and then I tried to slow it down. When I arrived at the crease, I was basically saying, "I'm in and I'm not going anywhere." It then came down to that first ball, and so that set the scene. I can't recall ever being in trouble in the first five, ten minutes of an innings. What a good bowler would do was to build the pressure, and I'd obviously fail.
But I didn't get too many ducks. So in that ten-year period of run-scoring I had a good routine, and the words "you're in" really did kick in the positive mode. From there, I batted in tens. I didn't bat in milestones or breaks. My game never changed when it was five minutes to go or ten minutes to go. I didn't notice the scoreboard or who was at the other end too much. I knew they were going through more pain than I was. I learnt a way and I knew most of the guys at the other end hadn't learnt that because they weren't as obsessed as I was.
Stand tall and bluff the opposition into believing that you're in great shape today
© Getty Images
Stand tall and bluff the opposition into believing that you're in great shape today © Getty Images
SB: You knew when you were in the 90s or in the 80s?
MC: I never put much thought into it. There was no feeling to it. When I got a hundred, it was fairly relaxed, I didn't kiss the helmet or do three jumps in the air and salute six times to everyone in the stadium like they all do now, and I love you team-mates, and I love you coach. I once blew a kiss to my first wife, and I think that was my last Test century. We were divorced a year later, and my career was over. See, you don't want to do that stuff!
SB: Shall we talk about the bad days, Daryll?
DC: Obviously it was stressful. Days when your form wasn't great and you weren't getting the runs... but entering the arena, you had to present yourself well. So again it was that walk in with the head held up and shoulders back and all that sort of stuff. And there were times when a wicket fell and I got up and said, "No, I am never gonna do this again, today is the last time. After this game, that's it!" And I don't know why, but it was a Test match at the Wanderers against England, and I swore my life that that was my last Test innings. And I got up and got a hundred, and suddenly you think, "Ah well, this is not too bad."
SB: How did you feel the moment you got out? Whether you're on zero or whatever, that moment when you've nicked the ball or hit it in the air and got out. Describe that moment.
DC: Shock. Surprise. But I think the biggest disappointment was when you got out at a time you shouldn't have got out. When you were set, you've done all the hard work, and you get out because of carelessness or overconfidence or poor concentration. That was the time I was the most angry.
SB: I have always wondered what it is like to be a batsman, because you mostly fail more than you succeed. If your average is 50, you're getting out for 20s, 30s and 10s fairly often. And that too public failure. You come back to the dressing room, you feel that you've let down your team-mates...
DC: If I had prepared well, was playing well, and was confident of myself, I knew runs were going to come. I would go through the checklist and if I was worried, I would obviously go and work on it. And pretty early in my career, I started to believe that whatever was going to happen had been predetermined. It was in somebody else's hands.
SB: So you believe in fate?
DC: I do believe in fate. What emphasised that was, one day in a casual conversation with [Mohammad] Azharuddin, when I was not getting hundreds, my question to him was: "How do you do it? How do you deal with it? You know, when the runs are not coming?" He said, "When it's your day, it's your day." And I thought about that. There were days and moments when you just got out - that's fate as well. I also started to believe that "today's my day" and it helped with my confidence out in the middle.
MC: When I got out, I had a pretty good idea as to how and why I got out technically - straightaway, in that moment, as I was walking off. And I knew I could fix it. It was maybe a good ball, or I wasn't good enough. And so it didn't become a trot - when I got out in five innings and didn't know as to why I was getting out, I never had that feeling. I guess I learnt to stay in the now, innings by innings. And so I was able to quickly get back in form.
SB: So it was fairly compartmental for you. You got out and switched on your analytical mode, analysing your dismissal immediately.
MC: Absolutely. In my mind I always knew exactly where my off stump was and when I was not out, or when I was given out lbw when I shouldn't have been. I've always believed that every batsman knows when he's out or not out, or when he's hit it. I learnt to deal with it and fix it, which got me to turn it around quick and focus on how to score a hundred.
"I remember my first big match was at the Wanderers. Walking down those steep steps, the abuse that I got! I thought to myself: what have I done to deserve that?"
SB: You've done all your work, covered all your bases, you're thinking right... what can trip you up in the middle?
MC: A great bowler working his magic. It's not just the one great ball, a great bowler has many great balls. And he knows that he's not allowing me to get set. I've seen Richard Hadlee completely do over so many players.Now when we went to the West Indies, or when you had Waqar and Wasim in combination, that's when it got hard. When you had three spinners in turning conditions, that's when it got hard. There was no respite, because in the end you wore yourself out.
Sometimes you got too conscious because you tried too hard to deal with the challenge. And against West Indies you had to accept it was hit or miss. Out of five, you were going to have three failures but if you could have one good innings and a half-good innings, you would average 40 and that would be okay in that era of the '80s.
SB: Does getting hit do anything to you? Does it cause doubts?
MC: Getting hurt was never an issue for me. In fact, it woke me up. The only time that it was an issue was when it put me in hospital when I had my whole chin torn open. But actually after that I dealt with the bloke that hit me and so I won the day. Getting whacked on a finger would hinder your ability to hold a bat. That was annoying. Getting whacked on the head always led to something good. It sparked you into motion, like a boxer who would get hit on the head and would have to move.
[Michael] Holding hit me in Guyana. When I failed in the first Test [in Trinidad], I tried too many things - back and across while getting ready. But I stayed still in Guyana, I stayed so still that he hit me on the head. And my brother came up to me, like a concerned brother would, and yelled at me to watch the ball, which was a good piece of advice because I was watching myself keep still. When I was watching the ball, I ended up batting for ten hours.
SB: You got a couple of beamers from Andy Roberts once...
MC: I played in a county match in 1984 as a 21-year-old for Somerset against Leicestershire. The first morning, Andy Roberts, bowling off 14 paces, towards the end of his career, is just nicking everyone out. It is just a stroll in the park for the great man. I got down to his end and decided to leave and leave, treating him like Hadlee.
After half an hour, he didn't like me and decided to go into his bouncer mode - he was just trying to hit you. After he bowled me two that went past my head, I guessed that the next one was going to be up. I guessed right and I hit it out of the park, back over his head. I hit it so good that I didn't even move out of my crease and watched it.
Peter Willey said to me: "I cannot believe what you have just done. Beware of the next ball." The next two balls were beamers at my head. If it wasn't for that warning I would have probably worn one of them.
Anyway, I was so upset at having been beamed twice, because they were close and fast, that was the first time I was shaking there in the middle and lost my sense of control. I got emotional and upset and he cleaned up the innings and I walked off 70 not out. I took 190 off him in the second innings and I got the sense that I had beaten him.
"If you have a bad day at the office, no one reads about it. If we had a bad day, the whole world would read about it"
© ESPNcricinfo Ltd
"If you have a bad day at the office, no one reads about it. If we had a bad day, the whole world would read about it" © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
DC: Batting, in many ways, is instinctive. You are going to have to respond to being hit. It's either going to bring out the best in you - the pride and the feeling that I want to compete, give me what you've got and let's see how you go... If in that moment you are going to back off, a good bowler is going to sense that and batting will become uncomfortable.
I was only hit once, by Sylvester Clarke, who toured South Africa with the [West Indies] rebels and stayed on to play domestic cricket. In the back of my mind, I was fearful of being hit. It is in the instinct, the pride, and the competitiveness that I found the biggest adrenaline rush. I am talking about proper pace. If it was getting to 150kph, that was my high. With lesser pace, you get caught up with this and that. But with pace of 150kph it is the ball that you have got to think about coming at you. And that was a high.
SB: Did any bowler get into your head?
MC: In my first Test series, my first Test match, Jeff Thomson got to me, but I was only 19 and I had never seen anything like it. To be honest, I would have struggled had I faced him again. It was a bit of a nightmare. He hit me in the head three times in the first five minutes.
Marshall was the only bowler who made me think a lot, because he had a lot of variations. He could be over or around the wicket, wide of the crease, cruise up or steam up. He could bounce the ball and swing it both ways. He could be slow or just get angry. So of all the bowlers, he had the greatest range of emotional intellect and skill, and that could grab my attention. He got me out a lot but I had my moments where I wore him down and that was a good feeling.
SB: Daryll, what was it like facing Shane Warne after a couple of dismissals?
DC: First of all, I was not equipped with the skills to deal with him. I was not a sweeper. He was pitching it up to players far better than me. The guys who were able to get off strike and move the ball around were sweepers. That was a skill that I didn't employ. Playing spin was not a factor when we grew up in South Africa.
And then, having got my wicket two or three times, he got into my head and there was doubt. The first basic thing in cricket is to watch the ball, which I stopped doing. We worked out the lap shot and that did allow me to get him around a bit. From the Test point of view, it wasn't going to happen, which was sad because you play to face the best. My history with Warne is still spoken about today but time passes and you get over those things.
"No one could understand why I wanted to face Hadlee in the nets. The secret was that he was lining me up on my off stump. That's what prepared me to face great bowlers"
SB: At any point, did you feel that you weren't up to it?
DC: Absolutely. He was a great bowler but the feeling stemmed from realising when you got to the crease that there is an important skill you need here. I had this discussion with Jacques Kallis. He had early success against Warne. He told me he found it more difficult to face Muralitharan. I had early success against Murali. You felt you found a way against him, even though he could get you out every single ball.
So with each failure, your first thought was: "From where am I going to get a run?" And you can fill one's head with Dale Carnegie and the greatest psychologists... but I believe you need to make sure your skills are as good, if not better because you can always work on the mind but when you walk out there, you need to know what skills you need and what skills you do not have.
MC: There is no question in my mind, when you compare Daryll to Hansie Cronje, Daryll had ten times more skill but the one skill Cronje had that got him out of trouble against legspinners like Warne was the slog sweep. You didn't expect Daryll to play the slog sweep. I didn't. But that was a skill that was handy for the particular challenge. It happens quite fast, the whole thing happens quickly in a Test series, you can't go away and play a couple of games. You're in the spotlight from one innings to another.
I faced Warne early in his career, probably inside the first ten Tests he played. He had a massive legspinner but I quickly realised that he was very naïve with his other skills - the wrong 'un, the topspinner, the zooter or whatever he used to call it, but they just went straight, they didn't do anything.
So I said, Warne, you are just a straight bowler with a legspinner, so I'm going to pick your legspinner and smash it with a sweep, a pull or a cut. Because my idea was: I had a bat that was four inches wide and he spun the ball 12 inches so there is no point playing it with a vertical bat, so I used the length of my bat and thought that I had him covered. In fact, there was twice as much chance of me hitting him than him getting me.
SB: Did you say that to yourself or to him?
MC: Well, not in so many words, because I worked out in my mind after facing him in a tour match that this guy is good and I would have to apply some logic here. I'm not going to be able to play him with a four-inch bat, I have to play him with the length of the bat. So I said to myself repeatedly that he was a straight bowler with a legspinner and I would go into pull or cut mode, and I nailed him.
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Here is the interesting thing: Allan Border, who played against me a lot, refused to bowl him to me and brought on Merv Hughes. So all my theories and plans that I was itching to put into practice were gone because I never saw Warne. Finally, he had to bowl him to me at Eden Park. We were chasing 200 to win and I hit him for three boundaries in his first over. Border moved his field every single ball. He was in panic because he had to bowl Warne, Hughes had been played out. He bowled me a wrong 'un. Everyone was on the boundary on the leg side, three guys and a short leg. And then a slip, cover, point, mid-off. He bowled a wrong 'un and it bloody turned. I got an inside edge and Langer caught it.
And so then the first over that he bowls to me for about three weeks I take him for three fours and he gets me out with a straight ball - but it actually did turn a little bit. So that's how good he was going to become. It didn't matter how many guns I had in my armoury; he had many as well. If I had faced him in ten years' time he would've had plenty of success, because anyone who turns the ball that much and is as accurate as he became is going to be what he was: the greatest legspinner, if not the greatest bowler, in the history of the game.
I was lucky that I got him young. In fact, after he got me out, he then bowled the Gatting ball. Then it all started.
DC: The beauty of him was that he didn't allow you the opportunity to come down the wicket. That took out a big scoring option, my way of combating spinners. That's what kind of got me, thinking you had to find a way to score from the crease. He wasn't going to give you many balls to pull and cut.
Funny enough, when I coach young kids today one of the first shots I teach them facing a spinner is how to sweep. Sweep, sweep, sweep. Stuart MacGill played during that time as well and you knew when you were getting a bad ball, but with that guy [Warne] the added pressure was that I'm not going to get much here. How would I get to that other side when I don't have the skills? That was my problem.
SB: What about form? When you're going through a bad patch, not able to score. Do doubts start creeping in?
DC: It does creep in but for me it came back to: "Where am I? Is it through lack of skills, or am I practising badly?" So if all those boxes were checked, it didn't bother me because I knew it would happen. You were only an innings away from turning the whole thing around and that was the beauty of batting. If you are at an office or at work, to close a deal could take a long time. Our beauty was that if things aren't going well, in four hours you could go and change it around and the whole world was a better place. The work environment is a lot more difficult. I am finding that out now. Back in my playing days, it was a tough job but you could turn it around.
MC: It's learning about who you are and what works for you. You have got to go back and check: Is the media getting to me? Is something at home troubling me? Whatever it is, you have got to slow it all down and bring what works for you back into focus. For me, it was footwork and just being light and agile. It could also be that you're just not sleeping well and there is no energy flow because things are troubling you.
It could be a team-mate who is trying to get you out of the team or something and so you have to try to block it out. My trots didn't last too long. I had a bad one at the start and a bad one at the end. In fact, it was against South Africa that it all went - my body, my nerve, desire - all went in about three weeks.
SB: We have heard of batsmen consciously trying to be in a certain kind of space in order to bat well. Isn't that an exhausting process?
MC: Incredibly exhausting. That is why it has got a limited shelf life. What we did was masking a difficult scenario and turning it into something that was okay, but we had to artificially simplify everything. But when you look at Bradman or Sachin Tendulkar or Jacques Kallis, they had a natural ability to simplify without trying to control their thinking. It just naturally wound down, whereas for us it just collapsed because it was difficult to constantly apply all of this stuff. For me, having to go and do it all over again, you think, "I might as well go on with the rest of my life, this is just ridiculous."
DC: If you have a bad day at the office, no one reads about it. If we had a bad day, the whole world would read about it. For me, it was different. I did not get to a stage where it got too much for me. I got into Test cricket late, I didn't know how long it would last. So I moved on. I moved on probably earlier than I should have.
SB: Was there any batsman whose mindset you envied?
DC: Growing up, Graeme Pollock. Barry Richards hardly ever played in South Africa. In international cricket it was Brian Lara. When he was at the crease he seemed to be ahead of the bowlers. His kind of assurance, and his cocky style of playing... I never found him to be a cocky kind of guy. I just marvelled at his skill and the mental ability to bat long periods.
MC: Mine was Viv Richards. He had a mask of fearlessness, he had the swagger, and a very macho body language. He faced some of the fastest bowlers in the world - although he didn't have to face his own bowlers very often - but he was incredible because there was unrelenting fearlessness. Greg Chappell had a very strong mental toughness about him but it was different. It was based on thought and how he controlled that thought. He turned that into focus and relaxation and into movements that dictated his play. I learnt more from that style than from anyone else. Those two were the standouts for me.
Interview location courtesy: The Ritz-Carlton, Bangalore
Sambit Bal is editor-in-chief of ESPNcricinfo. @sambitbal
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