Lance Klusener: South Africa's explosive power hitter who lit up 1999 World Cup with whirlwind cameos
Back in the mid and late 90s, South Africa, under the able leadership of Hansie Cronje, were a dominant team in one-day international cricket. The Proteas who got readmitted to top-flight cricket in 1991, made giants strides and established themselves as a formidable unit.
The well-oiled outfit had all the arsenal in their armoury to dominate oppositions and win matches with superlative consistency, both at home and while touring overseas. The Green and Gold Brigade were known to play their cricket hard and had a regimented approach to playing the sport.
The biggest weapon of the Proteas team was their lethal pace battery spearheaded by ‘White Lightning’ Allan Donald. Donald, along with the likes of Shaun Pollock, Fanie De Villiers, Lance Klusener and Brian McMillan, formed a fearsome seam attack, running through the defences of formidable batting line-ups both at home and away.
The South Africans were the best fielding unit with spectacular fielders in Jonty Rhodes and Herschelle Gibbs who prowled like tigers on the green turf. The batting had some elegant stroke-makers in Gary Kristen, Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis, Hansie Cronje, Daryll Cullinan and the dangerous wicketkeeper-batsman Mark Boucher.
Along with it, they had quality all-rounders like Jacques Kallis, Shaun Pollock and the hard-hitting Lance Klusener who provided depth to their squad.
Going into the 1999 World Cup, South Africa were tagged as the hot favourites to win the coveted title in the seam-friendly conditions at England. However, there was a constant worrying factor which always engulfed fans and well-wishers of South African cricket.
The South African fans were apprehensive of the tag of chokers associated with their team. They were keen to find out that whether the star-studded Proteas have the nerves to withstand the big match pressure and not choke or run against bad luck, the way they did in the 1992 and 1996 editions of the showpiece event?
South Africans once again dominated the group stages of the 1999 World Cup by registering comprehensive wins over India, Sri Lanka, England and Kenya. The only blemish in their near to perfect round-robin record was an upset loss to continental neighbours Zimbabwe.
Hansie Cronje’s brigade topped Group A and stormed into the Super Six stage. In most of South Africa’s wins, hard-hitting all-rounder Lance Klusener provided the late flourish to take the team across the finishing line.
Lance scored breezy half-centuries against Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, a cameo against England and picked up a 5 wicket haul against Kenya to establish himself as his team’s biggest match-winner.
The South Africans seemed to finally have an answer to their mental blues as Klusener provided that much-required composure with his clinical hitting down the order.
Klusener continued his purple patch with the bat in the super six stage by scoring quick-fire knocks against New Zealand and Pakistan. The South Africans finished third in the Super Six stage and guaranteed themselves a well-deserved place in the semi-finals against Australia.
Now came the real test as South Africa took on a resilient Steve Waugh led Australian team in the second semi-final at Edgbaston. Two of the major title contenders locked horns against each other and it had all the makings of an enthralling encounter which later turned out to be a World Cup classic.
The Australians batted first but got off to a disastrous start losing the dangerous Gilchrist-Waugh opening early. Donald and Pollock ripped through the Aussie middle order and Proteas looked in full command. However, a valiant partnership by the ever dependable Micheal Bevan and the gutsy skipper Steve Waugh helped the Aussies stage a late recovery and post a below-par 213-run total.
Chasing a meagre 214-run target, South Africa started cautiously but soon succumbed to their biggest weakness: spin. Australian spin wizard Shane Warne cast a web by getting rid of the openers and running through the middle order.
The workhorse Jacques Kallis along with Jonty Rhodes stabilized the innings and resurrected the chase. However, there was another twist in the tale as Australia struck back with quick wickets and left the Africans reeling.
With the run rate climbing and only one wicket in the kitty, Klusener once again held his composure and unleashed a flurry of boundaries against Fleming and Rieffel to keep South Africa in the game.
It eventually came down to the last over with South Africa needing nine runs. Klusener looked all set to take his team home but a horrible mix up and needless run-out between him and Allan Donald led to the see-saw battle finishing as a tie and knocking the Proteas out of the World Cup.
Australia progressed to the finals courtesy them having a superior run rate than the South Africans in the Super Sixes, even though both teams were level on points.
The writing was on the wall yet again, Proteas once again panicked at the knockout stage of the World Cup, when it mattered the most. South African hopes of reaching their maiden World Cup finals were dashed yet again. Tears fell all over the dressing room and skipper Hansie Cronje’s despair outlined the sheer agony and pain.
However, a star was born who won many hearts for his nation and the global cricketing fraternity. Klusener was declared the man of the tournament for his spectacular performances both with the willow and the ball. Klusener scored 250 runs and picked up 17 wickets to spearhead South Africa’s march to the semi-finals.
Born in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province, Lance Klusener was a powerfully built cricketer immensely gifted with both bat and ball. ‘Zullu’ as he was popularly known, was an explosive left-handed batsman who hit the ball as hard as anyone and cleared boundaries at will.
Klusener was also a very handy medium pacer who deceived the batsman with his uncanny change of pace, bowling deceptive off cutters. Klusener was a strong fielder in the outfield and hurled rocket-like throws from the deep.
Lance had a couple of productive seasons in ODIs, scoring over 3500 runs and scalping 192 wickets before running out of favour with the newly elected skipper Graeme Smith post Hansie Cronje’s tragic demise. Klusener, by then, had done enough to establish himself as one of South Africa’s greatest all-rounder in white ball cricket.
It has been almost 20 years since the 1999 Cricket World Cup’s epic Australia-South Africa semis was played but the match-winning exploits of Lance Klusener in the tournament remain etched for eternity in the memories of cricket fans all over the world.