Birthday Boy Daryll Cullinan Deserves to be Remembered as More than Shane Warne's Rabbit

“I’ve been waiting two years for another chance to humiliate you.”

“Looks like you spent it eating.”

This famous exchange between Shane Warne and Daryll Cullinan was probably the latter’s most enjoyable moment in Australia in his Test career, although he was dismissed by the former shortly afterwards. The South African turns 49 today, and whilst he was a top class batsman in his day, it seems that he will be remembered more as Warne’s “bunny” than for his cricketing achievements. His time in Australia will haunt him forever.

Cullinan burst onto the scene when, aged 16, he became the youngest South African to score a first-class century. He showed his potential throughout his youth and was expected to have a great career. He did not disappoint. He played 70 Tests, scoring 4554 runs and fourteen centuries at an average of 44.21 in the process.

In the first Test of South Africa’s 1998-99 tour of New Zealand, he broke his country’s record for highest Test score with a stunning 275. He also held the record for highest score in a South African domestic match when he scored 337 for Transvaal in a Castle Cup match in 1993. This brief look at his career shows that he was more than a “rabbit”. In fact, at his peak he was genuinely world class. But his disastrous performances in Australia will always cast a shadow over his talent.

Cullinan averaged 12.75 in his seven Tests against the Aussies, and four of his twelve dismissals came at the hands of Shane Warne. His record in Zimbabwe was actually worse—he averaged 12.66—but he only played three innings in those matches so the statistics can’t really be looked into as much. If you were to take away those seven matches, his average would be 48.36, which would put him amongst the very best batsmen of the 1990s and early 2000s. [These statistics are only for matches in the 1990s and don’t take into account his performances in the 21st Century.]

However, it isn’t right to try to alter statistics in someone’s favour—his difficulties in Australia happened, and his multiple humiliations at the hands of Warne will live long in the memory. Cullinan will be remembered, particularly by Australians, primarily for those four dismissals at the hands of one of the greatest bowlers ever. There is no point in trying to make people forget those moments. Rather, it is important to bring his cricketing brilliance to the foreground.

Unfortunately, not enough of Cullinan’s finest hours can be found on YouTube. However, it is well worth watching the highlights of his brilliant 120 against England in January 2000; the same series in which he scored that record-breaking 275. It’s a great example of how stylish his batting is and his ability to play any shot in the coaching manual. He was one of the most attractive batsmen of his era and deserves acclaim for the way he played the game.

On a side note, one of the most bizarre moments in professional cricket forms a part of his legacy. During a Currie Cup match in 1995, Cullinan hit pace bowler Roger Telemachus for six. The ball ended up in a spectator’s barbecue, landing in a frying pan. Play was stopped as the umpires waited for the ball to cool down, but after it was cooled down the ball was too misshapen to be used, and was duly replaced. It was only one moment in his great career, but an incredible one.

The psychological hold Warne had over him was like very few other instances in sporting history, but the leg-spinner’s (rather large) shadow should not cover his entire legacy. Daryll Cullinan should go down in history as one of South Africa’s most talented batsmen.