World Cup Heroes: Lance Klusener (England, 1999)
When Allan Donald suffered one of the costliest brain fades of all time, Lance Klusener was yards away from him. 12 or so yards away. His and his country’s cricketing destinies, hanging by a brittle thread, were on the verge of going unfulfilled. And all he could do was watch. Watch as he reached the shores of safety to still see the ship sink. The ship he was steering single-handedly in stormy seas.
Whose fault was it? Donald or Klusener? The answer to this question is that it doesn’t matter.
What would the World Cup of 1999 be remembered for? Would it be for the Australian triumph or the South African choke? Or would it be for the maverick left-hander Klusener?
To say he was the best player of the 1999 World Cup is as obvious as calling Dale Steyn the best fast bowler of this generation. A more appropriate question would be, was his show the best ever in any of the World Cups? 4 Man-of-the-Matches in 8 games, highest wicket-taker for the team in one, and highest run-getter for the team in another: how would anyone do better than this?
South Africa came into the 1999 World Cup with not much experience behind them. They had made their debut in 1992, where they lost in the semi-finals due to one of the strangest cricket rules of all-time. They were, however, still regarded as one of the strongest contenders for the title. As Klusener himself later said, they did not play well as a team as they should have. Had they done it, it would have been really difficult to get the better of a team like that.
A format reminder: The teams were divided into two pools, with 3 teams from each pool making it to the Super Sixes stage; then, each team of Pool A played a game with each team of Pool B. There was a point carry forwarding system, i.e., in case of a tie in the knockouts, the team that had won the respective fixture earlier in the Super Sixes stage would be declared as the winner as South Africa learnt the hard way.
1st Match v India – Early Signs
The Saffas began their campaign with a four-wicket victory against India, and Zulu provided a glimpse of what was to come – accounting for 3 wickets out of the top 4 including the prized wicket of the in-form Sachin Tendulkar. He was expensive, yes, but it was more due to him bowling at the death.
When Jacques Kallis got out run-out for 96, the Africans needed 27 from 26 with 4 wickets in hand. Another wicket and the match would have been busted wide open. But Klusener, nonchalance personified, smacked 3 boundaries off the four balls he faced as the Proteas raced home with as many as 16 balls to spare.
2nd Match v Sri Lanka – Klusener gets into the groove
It is perhaps a touch ironical that the team’s best bat came in as low as number 9. Klusener, however, wasn’t bothered much. He came to the crease when the Proteas were tottering along at 115-7, but after watching what followed, one could be forgiven for feeling that the scorecard was mistaken. 7 runs later, Daryll Cullinan, the last recognised batsman, was back in the hut and a defeat in this battle looked imminent. Not if you are equipped with a Lance though. He ripped, tore and tormented the Sri Lankan bowlers single-handedly with Steve Elworthy and Donald providing company as the Africans eventually finished at 199. Klusener was unbeaten on 52.
However, 199 was still not unattainable and the job wasn’t over by any means. No guesses as to who put his hands up. Even in a match where every bowler who rolled his arm over took a scalp, Klusener stood out with figures of 3-21 as the Lankans were blown over by 89 runs.
3rd match v Hosts England – Klusener starts to make this a habit
Different crisis, but the same crisis man. Klusener would have started to feel like Bob Willis in the Die Hard series. The system came a cropper, and it was down to the old guard yet again. This time, he came to bat at number 8 with the scoreboard reading 168. Pollock got a golden duck, which meant the tides were really beginning to rise. Did it matter to Zulu? Not at all. He kept surfing as if it was a nice sunny day, making hay while at it. In the company of a patient Mark Boucher, he unleashed another cameo of 48 at better than run-a-ball as South Africa finished with 225.
Though the law of averages meant Donald was almost certainly going to have a great game, Klusener did what was asked – finishing with 6-0-16-1 at a paltry economy of 2.66.
Here is how it looked like after the first three matches: he was never dismissed, scored more than a run-a-ball every single game and did not go a single game wicketless and his worst match average was 22 apiece.
4th match v Kenya – Ah, let’s just get done with this already
An African derby against Kenya. It was almost as if Klusener was bored with the match. No crisis? Then what am I supposed to do in here? Okay, I think I’ll wrap this up quickly. And just like a policeman doing a routine robbery case after solving a brutal murder mystery, Klusener made sure a good 1-80 start was reduced to the ashes – finishing with 8.3-3-21-5 as the Kenyans could get no further than 152, thereby also making absolutely sure his services were not required with the bat.
5th match v Zimbabwe – Asking too much of a man
Another derby. Zimbabwe then were not the pushovers they might be called today. But they were not a team that the Saffas, the prime World Cup contenders, should have lost against. Neil Johnson held the innings together as almost everyone chipped in to take the total to 233. Not a tall ask one would imagine. Meanwhile, our workhorse, even on an off day, produced a spell of 9-0-36-1.
233 – Achievable? One would think so. At 6-40, you would certainly not. Klusener came in at 7-106 in the 30th over. And he once again proceeded in his own merry way. This time, however, the support staff came short as the Africans were shot out for 185. Zulu was left stranded, unbeaten on 52, again.
To be honest, the Africans had a brilliant team. The very fact that it was Klusener who had to win it for them every time with not much support from others was a premonition of the dreaded times that were to follow.
Herein ended the group stage. The Africans took 2 bonus points with them; Zimbabwe shockingly took 4, having beaten both qualifiers India and South Africa. But as things unfolded, the Zimbabwe loss did not matter; another did.
1st Super Six game v Pakistan – I’m too old for this
It is almost like saying scroll up to know what happened during this game. The Pakistanis, batting first, posted a decent 220 on the board. An attack boasting of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar and Saqlain Mushtaq would have been super pleased with the effort. Our boy had the worst outing with the ball yet, finishing with 9-0-41-1, not bad figures by any stretch of the imagination.
However, he hit the bull’s-eye with the bat. Again coming out to bat when the match was staring down a deep, dark barrel, he made the light wade its way through with a magical 41-ball-46. This time, it was up against the best bowling attack in the world. Yet another brilliant finish, yet another greater-than-run-a-ball innings and still unbeaten: the human aspect of Klusener was now in doubt.
Match after match after match, he snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat, single-handedly. There was hardly ever a Robin for our Batman. It is, indeed, sad that the one people remember is the one he failed in.
2nd Super Six game v New Zealand – the one failure with the bat, decent with the ball
Finally, the founder of the law of averages – biting his nails in the heavens – heaved a sigh of relief. Zulu was promoted to number 3 after a terrific opening stand of 176. However, in true VVS Laxman style, no crisis meant no show for Klusener. He got out on 4 and was dismissed for the first time in the event.
The Africans, though, reached 287, and it was always going to be a tough ask with the quality of the Protean bowling attack. New Zealand never looked like they were in the game. Klusener has a decent outing with the ball, finishing with 9-0-46-2.
3rd game v Australia – You just dropped the World Cup, son
The Saffas had qualified to the semis by now. And things were starting to get better. Another decent show by the team as a whole led them to a total of 271. Our man was scintillating as usual with a 21-ball-36.
At 3-48, the African nation had Australia on the ropes. Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting were at the crease. At 152-3, the bowler being none other than Klusener, this happened.
Klusener, like countless times in the tournament, could only watch on as the team let him down. The rumour still goes on that Waugh told Gibbs,”You dropped the World Cup”. A prophecy that did go on to be true. Waugh’s brilliance at the right time meant the Australians won the game with 2 balls and 5 wickets to spare to set-up a rematch only days later. If only that catch had been taken, the course of destiny may have changed completely.
The Semi Final v Australia – Days like these lead to, nights like these lead to.....
The great Saffa choke. The only match etched in the memory of a cricket fan from that tournament. The match where Batman failed Gotham. Mistake number 1 happened when the Africans loosened the grip at 4-68 as fifties from Steve Waugh and Michael Bevan got them to 213.
The Africans started identically, with four wickets down at 61, when Kallis and Jonty Rhodes steadied the ship. When Klusener walked in at the dismissal of Kallis, the score was 6-175. What followed simply cannot be justified in words.
16 off 8, 9 off 6 and then 1 off 3. A match that the Africans should never have tied after coming so close to the finish line. Faltered. Destroyed.
But let us not get into that. Perhaps the blemish, the scar was so deep that people forget the bonfire he had lighted in so many hearts up to the point. In his own words, Klusener does not care now. And after the match, he was stable, level-headed and calm. Do players like these come by every single day? Or do they ever come at all? Either way, to play a series of games like these, you need more than just talent and hard work. Klusener had that.