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Lance Klusener always preferred doing his talking with the bat. It’s a horrible cliché, yes, but for this man, his bat was his mouthpiece. Find some archived footage of a post-match conference featuring Klusener as Man of the Match - and there are many - and you will see a few mumbles, eyes shifting nervously, fingers twiddling incessantly and feet tapping, waiting to make a hasty exit.
It was nothing like his persona at the crease, particularly the Klusener we came to know in the 1999 World Cup, the best bludgeoner of them all. He was the only batsman in the top 15 to have a strike rate over 100; his bat didn’t just talk, it shouted every word with! an! exclamation!
Twelve years and three World Cups later, Klusener does not have a bat to do the talking for him, and it seems to have helped. The words flow as the runs once did, maybe not as fluently, but with as much spark and zest. There’s even room for a joke or two. We caught up in Chennai, with the sun baking down at over 35 degrees.
He, in his commentator’s shirt and tie, had not one drop of sweat on him. Me, in my reporter’s gear of whatever is coolest (not in terms of style, but what beats the heat) was dripping. We agreed to stand in the shade to chat but there was only room for one of us in the small patch next to the field. “You need the shade,” he said. “No, please, you have it, I’m fine.” I lied back, while wiping my brow and letting out a big sigh.
South Africa had just bowled England out for 172, and not knowing then that they could have done with a batsman of his intent to chase the total, Klusener spoke about how South Africa were doing fine without a big-hitting No. 7, and how they were able to rely on the top order to score the kind of runs that he used to.
He meant the team no longer needs someone to accelerate madly at the end because they are top heavy when it comes to batting, and whether he is right or wrong is a debate for another day, but his point about the philosophy of South African batting having changed is spot on. When Klusener was still around, he was the finisher and what finishes he had.
His favourite was one against Pakistan, in that 1999 World Cup, at Trent Bridge, for reasons that will boggle the mind of those who think they know how Klusener liked to bat. He came in with the score on 135 for 6, with 14 overs left to get 86 runs. Quick scoring was needed but also patience.
“I enjoyed it because I was able to bide my time and plan an innings,” he said. I must have looked surprised. After smashing South Africa to victories over Sri Lanka and England and even going down in a blaze of boundaries against Zimbabwe, surely Klusener did not want to bide time. “It was nice because we had to catch up with the scoring rate and Mark Boucher and I were able to do that. Shoaib [Akhtar] and Wasim [Akram] and Saqlain [Mushtaq] were bowling well, so it was a real battle, not just a smash and grab.”
It was interesting to hear that Klusener did not just want to be a daylight robber, but, like any batsman, wanted to craft any innings from ball one. So what fuelled so many bruising knocks at that World Cup? “It was a lot of luck actually, and some of it was circumstance. I was hitting the ball really well.”
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