1999, World Cup semifinal, South Africa vs Australia
Chasing a target of 213 in 50 overs, South Africa were 205/9 at the end of the 49th over. With 9 runs needed off the last over, Damien Fleming turned on his bowling mark to see Lance Klusener on strike. Fleming ran up and delivered from round the wicket, trying to tuck up the left-hander. The ball missed the blockhole by a whisker, but that was enough for Klusener to muscle it through cover point for a boundary.
Damien Fleming walked back, ran up and delivered the next ball slightly closer to the off stump. Lance Klusener, perched on his back foot, brought down his 3.5lbs willow on it and creamed it through extra cover.
Everyone knows what happened next. Klusener ran, so did Allan Donald, but just a wee bit late.
“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
That day, the last couple of balls went horribly wrong, resulting in a shock exit of South Africa from the semifinals of the 1999 World Cup and immortalizing Lance Klusener forever in cricketing history.
Although the sorry figure wearing the number 69 jersey running back to the pavilion, etched itself in our memory, yet whenever we think of Lance Klusener, we think of a swashbuckling soldier who could cut a swath through the enemy ranks with his all-round brilliance.
Klusener belonged to those rare breed of cricketers who could both create and conquer. He could infuse life into a match and change the game either by his uninhibited striking or by his nagging medium pace bowling.
Interestingly, Lance Klusener began his cricket career as a snappy medium pacer who batted at number 11. In 1996, he made it to the South African one day side and later was drafted into the Test squad for the tour of India that year. He was handed his Test cap at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata where he came up with a complete mixed bag debut.
Md. Azharuddin took a special liking to him and carted him around the park en route to a magnificent hundred. Azharuddin was particularly severe on the debutant and smashed him for five consecutive boundaries in one over.
Then the “Zulu” Warrior responded. He ripped apart the Indian batting in the second innings and achieved the career best figures of 8/64 – a performance as maverick as the man himself.
But it wasn’t his sniper stance bowling that made him the most dangerous cricketer during his time. As time went on, his thunderous batting style, that looked like cross between baseball hitter and an aggressive lumberjack, sent chills down the spines of every bowler in the world.
Lance Klusener was not only a hard hitter, he was an image of brutality much like Chris Gayle. Although Chris Gayle portrays a much “cool” demeanor, Klusener was an out and out fighter.
From the way he would walk out to bat carrying that three pound something log, the opposition knew that he was not to be messed with. The crew 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 backlift added to the menace of the warrior that he was.
The purist didn’t approve of his technique, but he couldn’t care less. The experts tagged him as a “slogger”, but he was happy bludgeoning their concerns with ultimate ease. He would smite 100 balls every day from a bowling machine, and by his own admission, it was the effort in practice which showed on the field.
“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 practiced it a hundred times before the game…”
A few credited his success to luck, but he had an answer for them too.
“Of course cricket is about luck….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.”