?I blame the players for the Cup fiasco?

Published on Mar 12, 2003 12:15 AM IST

Nestled in a corner of the St George's Park is a sports shop. Nothing outstanding about the place, it's like any other that you find in all the big stadia around.

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PTI | ByJaideep Ghosh, Port Elizabeth

Nestled in a corner of the St George's Park is a sports shop. Nothing outstanding about the place, it's like any other that you find in all the big stadia around. There sits a man who made a name for himself as a South African cricketer, fighting more odds than most.

Dave Callaghan did not play for the country too many times. In fact, he featured in only 29 one-day internationals. But in that short time, he played some memorable innings, including a knock of 169 not out as opener against New Zealand at Centurion in 1994.

Callaghan's battle began earlier, in 1992, when he recovered from testicular cancer.

He speaks about the problem freely. While playing club cricket in England in 1991 he was hit on the groin, and the pain forced him to see a doctor, who suggested more tests. On returning home the cancer was detected.

"I was devastated," he said. "But I re-assessed my life and it made me more hungry."

The affliction prevented him from becoming a member of the 1992 World Cup squad, and then, it was an excruciating story of pain and chemotherapy.

But by the 1992-93 season, Callaghan was playing international cricket, making his debut one year to the date after his last chemotherapy session.

"I cannot forget that game which Hansie finished off with a six," he said. "I was fortunate not to have the worst of cancers and it was detected early."

But for that blow in England, Callaghan may have been worse off. "It was a miracle," he said of his recovery. "Cancer was a major setback for me but it made me stronger and a much better person.

"Cricket was my life. I would sulk if I got out for a duck. Now I realise there is so much more to life. It was humbling, strengthening and a growing experience," he said.

The 37-year-old now owns a sporting goods firm; and still plays first-class cricket for Eastern Province and hopes South Africa make the kind of progress they ought to be making.

But like many veterans, he is also angry.

"I can't believe the stuff coming out of the team these days. Things like 'we'll miss Hansie' and 'we will dedicate this World Cup to him'. I think it put pressure on the team. I blame the players. They need to look beyond on what has happened and give the younger players a bit of encouragement.

"There are too many people trying to be too many chiefs in this country. We need to look at our infrastructure, right from the coaching side to getting good first-class wickets as well as teams in first-class cricket. We have got to build from there.

"It's sad that there are players trying to play county cricket and not looking to play for South Africa.

“Nantie Hayward is looking to play for Worcestershire and is not available for South African cricket for two years.

"I understand that the pound is lucrative but we need to condense our money and say to ourselves we are only going to play six sides and will pay those six teams well, instead of diluting that money among too many people."

Callaghan still plays for Eastern Province, but has not taken a contract for next year.

He also plays for Grey's High School in a format that allows two professionals to play in a team of schoolboys, who also play in the big league.

It helps him stay young, and fight the odds of age. After what he has been through, this one will be a cinch.

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