During his playing days, Lance Klusener was one of the fiercest competitors on the field. Whether it was with the ball or bat, Klusener’s army training always urged him to gun down the opposition. In the early days of his career, the world saw him bowling only two lengths — either full, right on the toes of the batsman or shot-pitched, aiming at the head.
His on-field aggression may give you a wrong impression about the real-life personality of Klusener. Off the field, he is one of the nicest persons around — humble, polite and soft-spoken.
On Monday, Klusener was travelling to Harare to join the Zimbabwe boys (He is a batting coach of the Zimbabwe national team) and missed out on watching the fascinating day’s play at Newlands, where 18 wickets fell. However, he did follow the game online and kept himself updated.
“An eventful day of Test cricket, isn’t it,” he said to start the conversation through a WhatsApp call. “When fast bowlers take 18 wickets in a day, then it is bound to attract some eyeballs. I feel the rain yesterday did freshen up the surface. But still you have to admit the quality of this (South African) bowling attack. One of the best in the world right now, if not the best.”
The way the Indian batting danced to the tunes of the South African pace attack in Cape Town, at the moment mounting a comeback in the series over the next two games seems like a miracle, especially considering the fact that the upcoming matches will be played in the highlands, where the pace and bounce are expected to be even more severe.
However, Klusener stills pins hope on the visitors.
“There is some serious quality in this Indian batting line-up. They have been playing well consistently, that’s why they are ranked No 1 in the world. Yes, the conditions are different over here (in South Africa). But you cannot count them out yet.
“If India want to do well in the remaining two matches, (Virat) Kohli needs to score runs. He is the best batsman in the side and when he doesn’t score, a native mindset is created in the team. Others may feel when the best player in the team is not good enough to score runs, then how can they survive in these conditions. So, I hope the captain will lead from the from the front in the next match and set up the series for an exciting finish. Let me tell you, he is well capable of doing that.”
On being asked to talk about which areas Kohli’s men should look to improve in, Klusener said: “First and foremost, as a visiting batting unit if you want to do well in South Africa, you need to have proper planning against short-pitch bowling. You cannot go half-hearted. Either you have to leave (the short ball) well or you have to play the hook and pull shots. Once you show that you’re assured against the short stuff, then bowlers will be forced to pitch the ball on your half and that will create scoring opportunities.”
On Monday, most of the Indian batsmen seemed to be struggling against Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel’s fourth-stump line. Six of the ten Indian wickets fell when the batsmen offered catches behind the stumps.
Talking about the habit of poking outside the off-stump, Klusener said: “You have to see where they are coming from. On sub-continental wickets, where there is less bounce, these edges can give you two runs. But here in these bouncy South African pitches, edges are carried straight to the slip cordon. To be successful here, one needs to get rid of this habit as quickly as possible.”
Furthermore, he also suggested that batsmen need to show ‘controlled aggression’ rather than just looking at survival.
“On these wickets, as a batsman, you are never settled. You don’t know when a ball will get you out. So, you always have to look for scoring opportunities like Hardik Pandya showed in the first innings. Though in the end his knock (95-ball 93) hasn’t turned out to be a match-winning one, but it certainly brought India back in the reckoning from nowhere. I feel controlled aggression is the way forward here (for a batsman).”
Interestingly, Kohli also spoke along the same lines in his post-match press conference.
In Pandya, the former Proteas all-rounder sees a world-class match-winner.
“India have been looking for a seam-bowling all-rounder for quite a while now. And in Pandya, they have found a world-class option. His all-round skill allows the captain to explore a lot of options, especially in the conditions we have in South Africa.”
So, skill wise is Pandya at par with someone like Ben Stokes?
Klusener thinks there is still time for that comparison.
“If he (Pandya) can work on his game and keep improving then he can certainly reach Stokes’ level or even surpass him.”
A huge compliment indeed for Indian team’s blue-eyed boy.