Lance Klusener – The real badass of South African cricket

Sundays are the days when I am at peace with myself especially during the afternoons. Today is no exception. As I lie down, I just close my eyes; let myself wander into the memories of good old days.

As a 90’s kid in India with cricket flowing in the arteries, it meant everything to me and it still does. Within no time I see myself playing cricket cards and I can tell you there isn’t a better sight holding the player’s card you love. The actual superheroes and sci-fi stuffs had no room inside my heart instead Sachin was my superman, Bevan the He-man and Klusener- the Batman.

Lance Klusener -My Batman

Lance Klusener -My Batman

Before the joyous moment transcends, I think it is time to get up and capture it through my pen and share the reason why this person on the card is so legendary.

Born and raised amidst the Zulu tribes of South Africa, this naive country boy ended up becoming the classiest all rounder of my era .Without bothering much about the perks of the game he did his job on the 22 yards battlefield and merrily returned to the dressing room like a shepherd would do after the dusk. He had a powerful and an intimidating character, the kind a real fighter should possess and was rightly called as the ZULU WARRIOR.

It was primarily during his military services days (after school) that he started to like cricket and drew everyone’s attention. The combination of upbringing and three years in the army contributed to a straightforward approach in his bowling – Hit the batsman’s head if you can’t hit his stumps. That was the exactly the kind of temperament Malcolm Marshall (who at that time was in charge of revamping the South African cricket at the provincial level) was looking for.

Within no time he  flourished under Marshall’s guidance, established the reputation as a man for a crisis and made his test debut in the mid 90’s as number 11 who could bat .He was a revelation as he scalped  his career best figures of 8/64 Vs. India  in that game. Zulu never stopped attacking as a bowler, the kind of exact stuff you would expect from a Marshall prodigy. He belonged to those rare breed of cricketers who not only delivered but conquered at the same time. Sadly he couldn’t last much as a Test bowler .Due to a serious ankle injury in 1998 he was forced to drop his pace and he started to focus more on his batting abilities.

He could infuse life into a match any moment by changing the dynamics either by his hasty striking abilities or by his fierce medium fast bowling. It was the 1999 World Cup where the warrior showed his real all round talent to the world. Every game he would walk in, finish off his task, go back, and behave as if nothing great happened. He swung match after match South Africa’s way: 52 off 45 balls turned the tables on Sri Lanka at Northampton; 48 off 40 sealed England’s fate at The Oval; 46 off 41 pulled the game with Pakistan at Trent Bridge from the fire.

In nine matches, the southpaw smashed 281 runs off 230 balls, without giving off his wicket. Majority of his World Cup runs came in front of square on the leg side, the area I personally like to hit in the most as well. Those hefty pulls and rock solid punches over deep mid wicket felt same to me as a teenage girl in India would feel after meeting Shah Rukh Khan. He claimed 17 wickets (18 had not Herschelle Gibbs dropped Steve Waugh) and his fielding was equally applaudable in the tournament.

However, more than the runs he scored the condescending disdain that he showed towards the bowlers in the death overs in that World Cup was a lesson in slaying on a cricket field. Well that’s Lance Klusener for you – crude, honest, and an entertaining game changer to be precise.

Zulu hitting a shot in his favourite zone

Zulu hitting a shot in his favourite zone

But the most iconic game in that World Cup or rather his entire cricketing career for which he’ll be remembered for his lifetime would be the second semi-final that was played between Australia and South Africa in Edgbaston, England.

A target of 214 to chase in 50 overs was on the cards for South Africans. Klusener came into bat when South Africa was 175–6 in 45 overs. Courtesy his big-hitting South Africa entered the final over at 205/9 with 9 to win off the last 6 balls. The two men at the crease were Klusener (on strike) and Allan Donald. Klusener scored consecutive fours in the first two balls of the over hammering Fleming through the deep cover boundary, levelling the scores and leaving South Africa with only 1 run to win off 4 balls with Klusener on strike. Donald survived the third ball with a missed run out chance at the non striker’s end .The fourth ball witnessed Klusener miss-hitting his shot to mid-off fielder Mark Waugh. Klusener went for the run, although the chances of a run-out were high and two balls were still there in the kitty. However, Donald at the other end didn’t see Klusener sprinting down the pitch for a run, and Klusener was almost at the bowler’s end by the time Donald (who had also dropped his bat) began running. By then, Waugh had thrown the ball to Fleming, who rolled it back to Adam Gilchrist who took the bails off at the other end, meaning Donald was run-out by some distance, thus ending the match with the scores level.

However, a tie meant that Australia progressed to the final since they had beaten South Africa in the group stages of the tournament. As Bill Lawry put it during the final ball:

“…this will be out surely – oh it’s out, it’s gonna be run out…oh, that is South Africa out – Donald did not run, I cannot believe it. Australia go into the World Cup Final – ridiculous running with two balls to go. Donald did not go, Klusener came – what a disappointing end for South Africa.”

South Africa choking in the semi-final. Eruption of joy for the Australians

South Africa choking in the semi-final. Eruption of joy for the Australians

SA lost their nerves when it really mattered and Australia went on to win the tournament. From there on they have inherited the tradition of choking at the crucial moments but that jinx has finally been broken by their under 19 lads. Although Klusener’s heroics went in vain that day but there was a silver lining attached to it. He went on to win the Player of the Tournament and the number 1 spot in the ODI batsmen rankings. At the press conference Zulu justified his strategy-“I always try to finish games with six balls to spare, because if there is a cock-up, the people coming in get a chance to do something. If you leave it to the last couple of balls then it can go anywhere.” – Lance Klusener

Lance Klusener -the Man of the Tournament 1999 World Cup

Lance Klusener -the Man of the Tournament 1999 World Cup

Whenever I think of Lance Klusener, I think of a swashbuckling Sparta who could slit the enemy’s throats with his all-round brilliance. His stance in particular was the most fascinating trait about his bowling. It made me go bonkers in my childhood. His calm straight head just before the delivery reminded me of a Hit Man, who was focused with a single point agenda of Killing the opponent. I can ape many bowling actions but the coolest of them is still his’. It fetches me wickets every time.

His batting style was equally stylish. From the way he would walk out to bat carrying that 2 kg wooden log, the opposition knew that he wasn’t a rookie to be messed with. He looked like a hybrid of a baseball player, a ninja fighter and a professional lumberjack. The army cut hidden under the helmet, the muscular frame veiled by the green and yellow oversized baggy shirt, the nonchalant biting of the chewing gum and the monstrous back lift added to the menace of the beast that he was.

I somehow have a fascination about the term “slogger” .Viru was called one, KP also at times and Zulu wasn’t an exception. Please can someone tell these mad critics that being aggressive isn’t about slogging? Though he never gave a rat’s ass about what those experts had to say, he mockingly replied once -” You see me hitting the ball out of the ground, but I hit hundreds of those in practice. It may look like a good shot, and it is, but you have practised it a hundred times before the game…” It isn’t luck always. Of course cricket is about luck at times….Balls go in the air and fall in gaps, but hitting does not just happen. You have to learn to improvise and swipe – and be at peace with what you do.”

He was as calm as a cucumber off the field .He would often read a book before he entered the battleground to bat no matter what the situation was and rescued his team time and again from improbable positions. According to him aggression was something to be shown on field only not in life and never took anything personally.

Post World Cup his bowling hit a rock bottom with some mighty injuries. Differences with the skipper and the rise of young talent like Kemp and Kallis doomed his career. “To be honest Lance, as fantastic as he is…can sometimes ruin a team and termed him as a DISRUPTIVE FORCE. His ability as a cricketer is very good, but his ability as a team man is not very good and he kind of can infect a team and bring down the youth…” – The 22-year-old Graeme Smith explained Klusener’s exclusion after he took over.”

Well whatever Smith, I still love him as I did in the 90’s He is definitely one of the most calculating hitters the game will ever see and you know it Biff! His excellent  strike rate while bowling and batting  and an ODI batting average of 41.10 definitely ranks him among the finest all rounder to have ever graced the game.

Lance may you live long and prosper. You are still an adorable bad ass.
Hail Zulu !! #MyRealBatman