Lance Klusener bats
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Talking Cricket

'I wanted to be there at the end. That was my drug'

Twenty years on from the last World Cup in England, Lance Klusener, who wrote the book on finishing in ODIs in that 1999 tournament and either side of it, talks about how it's done

Interview by Sidharth Monga  |  

Lance Klusener played before his time. He was arguably the first specialist destructive batsman over 15-20 ball innings. With a heavy bat, a fibreglass case over two fingers in his glove, cold demeanour and powerful hitting, he intimidated many a bowler and turned many a game on its head. Here he talks about the method behind the madness.

How heavy was your bat? How did you settle on that?
For me, bats are a personal thing. It's what suits your style - everybody is different. I don't believe a heavier bat hits further or anything like that. Mine happened to be a little bit on the heavy side. I think it was around 2lb 14oz. Again, all about balance, all about feel.

A hobby of mine is to walk into random sports shops and look for bats, because there are always - especially in India - some gems that come through. Often I just walk in and I don't weigh the bat before I look at it and feel it. Sometimes they were way lighter [than my usual bats] but they had that feel that I could hit the ball with it.

You had this heavy bat, two fingers together in a protective case on top of the gloves - you looked intimidating. Almost a mythical character: cold-blooded, out of army training, hitting sixes first ball. Did you realise you intimidated bowlers?
I think, later on. Not initially. You could use that to your advantage definitely. On occasion, yes, but my focus was on just myself and how I was going to get the game done from that specific situation.

You were a bit of a specialist, in that you were dangerous if you had 15 to 20 balls to bat. How did this role develop? Nobody was a specialist at that before you came along.
I practised a lot. I used to practise a lot against the bowling machine and just hitting the ball straight. It was almost like a hundred balls on the bowling machine would work out to one six in the match. It was that much. When you are on tour it is not really that easy, but certainly when I was back home, I used to try to hit 500 or 600 balls a day. Just slogging. You turn on the TV and you see me hit two sixes. You didn't see me hit 1000 balls the two previous days.

So if you are hitting 600 balls, you are mixing up the length and pace and so on?
No, I wasn't. I was just hitting that same slot ball for six. I wasn't trying anything else. I was lucky to have a friend who used to feed me balls, but it would take a good two hours. I was injured before the 1999 World Cup - a year before that. I had an ankle injury. I couldn't bowl or do anything, so I spent a good six months just doing that. I had a bit of a talent before, but to refine that talent…

"I hated walking on to the field knowing I hadn't prepared 100%. It kept me calm knowing that I have prepared the best I can" © Getty Images

Maybe it is something we don't do enough - actually practising your good skills. Everybody is working on their weakness and how to get better, but sometimes you forget to practise something you are really good at.

No one was playing that role in world cricket at that time. You were going to be a pioneer. How do you know this was going to work out?
Look, first of all, it gave me a lot of joy doing that. And that's the bottom line, really. I started my career batting down the bottom - I used to bat 11, behind Malcolm Marshall [for Natal]. I wasn't big and strong those days but I had the talent, and when Nos. 9, 10 and 11 walk in and there's 20 runs to get, and it's up to you to win the game, that's where I thought it was quite a nice responsibility to have. If you do make it home, then you are the hero, but if you don't, then people say, "Doesn't matter, at least he tried." There's nothing much to lose.

These were the days when you were predominantly a bowler, and you were wondering: how can I make the most of the five or ten deliveries I get to bat?
And I used to always ask Malcolm: How am I batting 11? I am better than [Shaun] Pollock and yourself.

What it did say was, if you are only getting five balls, use them to the best of your ability. That's how I am getting up the order: make the most of those five-ten balls.

You weren't range-hitting, were you, when hitting them straight in the nets?
It was in the nets. Range-hitting is fantastic. Whenever I get the opportunity as a coach, I do it, but it is not that easy. You need quite a few people to collect the balls, and you lose balls, and some places aren't big enough.

In the nets, with the bowling machine, somebody can feed the machine. I don't think you can do the volume with range-hitting that you can do with the bowling machine. Where range-hitting is nice is, it confirms to you the dimensions of the field.

Girish TS / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

So when you were hitting, you were just hitting straight?
Yes, yes. I think that's the baseline, really. If it has got length on it, you can drag it or slice it. Those days you had people bowling just yorkers at the end. You very rarely got anyone doing anything different. Hardly got a slower ball. Bouncers were there but you could deal with that.

Nowadays it must be a nightmare to bat at the end. Those days you really just tried to bowl yorkers. My theory was, if you miss your yorker, I'm going to punish you.

You were essentially hitting just the bad balls.
Exactly. I also knew that there were very, very few bowlers out there who could bowl six yorkers in an over. Even if he is bowling four yorkers in an over, which is fantastic by any standards, he is still missing two. If I can take 12 off that over - two dots, two singles, and a six and a four off the bad balls - we are still winning the game. I needed to take advantage of the ones that they missed.

In the last over of the game, what were you comfortable chasing?
I think ten. Twelve maybe. Depends on who is bowling. Ideally if I had had a bit of time chasing that score from six or seven overs out, you want to get it [mostly] done in the 49th. And leave whatever you need to clean up in the last one. Not think, "Let's leave ten for the last and see how it works."

Be mindful that even if you don't take advantage and if you do leave it for later, the pressure is there for the bowler as well. Doesn't matter who it is. There's always pressure having to defend off the last over.

Even if it is 16, 18.
Yeah, look, I have scored 20 in the last over to win games. Couple of those times were because they were trying to get you out before the last over [and were using the best bowlers to try to do so]. Now someone else has to bowl that last over. That's when you can get 20. Doesn't really matter. You need a little bit of help from the bowler. To get it wrong. If you are going to bowl good balls, you are going to defend.

Just starting off with your first such effort at international level. Against West Indies at the Wanderers. You walk in at 114 for 6, 28 balls to go, 46 to get. Did you bat thinking it's 46 off 22 and not 46 off 28?
Yeah. I am saying, if I can get half the runs in half the balls, that's my job. Now I need some help from the other end. So 40 off 20, I need to get 20 off 10. How do I do that? That gives me an idea of how hard I need to go. If you are batting with Makhaya [Ntini] or Allan [Donald] or somebody, you might need to get 30 of those. But then you have got to farm the strike a little bit. But if you are batting with a [Mark] Boucher or Pollock, we reduce it to half the runs in half the balls. Always just a yardstick.

It was about getting to a position where we would have a chance. And that chance was that the left-arm spinner [Neil McGarrell] needed to bowl the last over, so I waited for him rather than go after [Curtly] Ambrose.

Not many have that experience to be calm in that situation.
I had been doing that in state cricket. Ja, look, you need to be calm in those situations. For me, it was: what will be will be. If I have practised hard and I have done whatever I can, then the rest is just up to the cricketing gods. But I hated walking on to the field knowing I hadn't prepared 100%. It kept me calm knowing that I have prepared the best I can.

If I had done the work, I walked onto the field expecting to do well, not hoping to do well. If you are just hoping to do well, hope I don't get out, hope I don't hit one in the air - that's too many things going on there.

That's what you apparently told Daryll Cullinan about Shane Warne: Don't worry what will happen. Just go and hit him.
Yeah, look, when anybody is struggling, everybody else is an expert: Is Daryll practising enough against legspin? Why is he overthinking?

The thing is, I said, if you feel you have prepared 100%, you get a good ball from Warnie or anyone else, that's fine. That's your day, well done, bowler. But you don't want to be messing up opportunities. If you get a full toss from Warne and you are not hitting it to cover and just patting it back, that's crap. That is you not being prepared to put it away. But that's another story.

"I used to try to hit 500 or 600 balls a day. Just slogging. You turn on the TV and you see me hit two sixes. You didn't see me hit 1000 balls the two previous days" © Getty Images

Napier. You're against Dion Nash. Four runs required off the last ball. He is an established bowler, and you are still new to international cricket. What are you thinking when he starts running in?
I don't think too much. I have got an idea of where I want to hit it. And those days you had a pretty fair idea of what the ball is going to be - a yorker. If he nails that yorker, well done to him. But in my mind, if you miss it, I am not going to miss. Because I am prepared. In the end it was just a full toss, but you've still got to put it away.

And I have done it thousands of times in the nets. Not just about practice, not just about hitting 500 balls, it is about hitting 450 of them correctly. That's the other thing about practice. You have got to make sure there is good quality there as well.

What if it is a day when it has not gone right in the nets? Instead of 450, you have hit only 350 correct.
It's like going to gym. There's days when you don't feel like it. It's probably best not to go on those days. Some days it is not working out for you. You just have a tea and tell yourself not to worry too much and we will come back tomorrow. Just give it a break.

Same situation, four runs required, today. How do you approach it?
I'd have a good look at the field, I guess. I need to know what kind of slower ball the bowler bowls: offcutter or back of the hand. Back then it was 90% yorkers. Now it's probably 40% going to be a yorker. I think you would probably have to wait a bit longer to have a good look at what it is. If it is a slower ball and you have committed too soon, you have lost your momentum.

As a coach, are you asking batsmen to study the bowlers, what their slower balls are, what the field tells you?
I don't want to complicate it more than that, really. Does he swing the ball in or out? What is his slower ball? And being aware of the field. Sometimes the field changes and batsmen either haven't picked it up or don't know why it has changed. Always ask yourself why the fine leg has come up now. Probably going to be a little bit fuller.

It is about paying attention to the smallest of details. Just try to stay switched on as much as possible. See small changes in the field. Watch opposition body language a lot. That can tell you how they are feeling. If they are nervous or if they are now having those little meetings. You always see those when it gets tight. Then you know you have got these guys. If I keep going for another couple of overs here, it is pretty much done. Those were the little tell-tales that I used to be able to let me know how I am going.

"When it was 50 off 60 balls, I didn't really want to go and bat in that situation. I was interested the other way around: hundred off 50 balls, now there is a game"

In these situations, I think by 2000, South Africa had won three matches off the last ball and you were there in the middle on all three occasions and had finished off two of those games. What is it like being there? When everything is on the line on that one ball?
For me that was my drug. That's what I lived for. I wanted to be there. I didn't want to be watching or be in the shed waiting for my turn. I wanted to be in that situation. Because I have practised for that situation. I didn't want to be opening the batting, because I haven't practised for that, it didn't excite me. But it excited me to get the winning runs or to complete a chase. That's why I played the game. I wanted that responsibility.

It didn't show in your emotion when you finished the job.
I am not really emotional from that point of view. But inside, there is a lot of satisfaction to say: all that hard work that people never saw really paid off today. That, for me, was why you go back and work hard tomorrow, because you saw that it works. For me, it was just… I just had to be there.

When you say it was your drug, when did that start?
I think from the time I started playing state cricket. I always used to find it interesting how somebody could get a hundred but people could say to you, "You only got 30 not out but well done, you won the game for us." My 30 was my hundred.

It wasn't like a little kid's fanciful dream - last ball of the match and I want to hit a six to win it.
Look, when we grew up there was no television back home. The highest thing you could play was for your province. And even that, there was very little that was televised.

So this wasn't something that I grew up wanting to do. Even until I was 20 - [South Africa] only came back into international cricket when I was 20-21 - that was something that never really entered my mind. But I think having a guy like Malcolm Marshall, who could relate to that stuff, who could open your mind - he was big on "Do you know this person, do you know what they did?" I had never heard of Viv Richards. And he was like, "Come tomorrow and tell me everything about Viv." You'd hurry up to find out.

Does it help to be unemotional? Do you have to be wired that way for these tight situations? MS Dhoni and Michael Bevan were of even emotions.
From the cricketing point of view, I am not really emotional. Sport is an emotional ride anyway. I just try and take as much of that emotion out of it by being as prepared as possible, as aware as possible, about whatever the situation is. If the other team plays better than us, there is not really too much you can do about that. But it really kills me to sit knowing we hadn't fielded hard enough in practice and now we have dropped two catches. That, for me, is bad.

"Sometimes the field changes and batsmen either haven't picked it up or don't know why it has changed. Always ask yourself why the fine leg has come up now. Probably going to be a little bit fuller" Tom Shaw / © Getty Images

MS, it is almost like he doesn't care. If he is chasing a score and he hits a six and a four, he doesn't really care. He is worried about what else needs to be done.

But you do care, deeply.

Then you have to play like you don't?
I think you play like you shouldn't celebrate too soon or get ahead of the situation. It is more relief than celebration that you have managed to get over the line. That was my job. That's why I came to the ground.

Did you not feel the high? Did you feel it was almost boring if you had to go and score 50 off 60 balls or 100 balls?
Definitely. I didn't really want to go and bat in that situation. I wasn't interested in that. I was interested the other way around: hundred off 50 balls, now there is a game. Maybe it was something I could do differently, have a better attitude towards… [laughs]

Did you almost sit in the sheds, wishing you'd lose two wickets?
Not let's lose two wickets, but let's…

Bat slow?
Why not? Now I am in the game. Now I am alive.

And you also wish you win.
Of course, you want to win. But why not win in the last over?

Did you ever discuss this contradiction?
No. It's nice on the nerves, every now and then, to canter home and win by four wickets, which we did a lot. But sometimes, why don't they just bowl well and we have to chase 20 off ten?

And sometimes you are bowling and you have them 160 for 8 and you want to concede 40 more so that you have something to chase.
Always thought: maybe [Pat] Symcox can go for a six or two and make it a little bit more interesting!

I must say it was something I really enjoyed. I can't deny the fact that sometimes I felt, maybe if they bowl tight for ten overs, maybe it will get tighter, maybe I can get a six off the last ball. Why not, you know? Because I was confident.

And it had nothing to do with being a glory hog.
It was just about the satisfaction. That raw competition between you and the bowler, in the last over, that is what excited me. It's just you and me. And it's not going to be me.

But it wouldn't be satisfying if it was just a two-over game. It has to organically get there.
100%. I think people who bat there have to want to be in that situation. You've got to be saying, "Captain, I'll go." You have got to want it that bad. Dhoni does that. You'll see when it's right, he is in. If it is two down and they need that chase, he is there.

I think there is a bit of sadism there: last over, one on one, I want to break you down.
Probably. I want you. I want a piece of you. Come. And I know there is a hell of a lot of pressure on you as a bowler. I have bowled the last over in many games. I am thinking, "I would rather be batting now than bowling these six balls."

The last over has started. You know you can put the bowler under pressure. Do you want to do that early? Dhoni tries to do that.
For me, I have got six balls to get what I have to get, and if I have to do it off the last ball because there have been some decent balls, then so be it. Just because I haven't put the first two balls away, I am not under pressure. Most probably, if he is a good bowler he will get four right. So if he has got two right already, he has four balls left. He is going to miss two. I ain't missing.

If the fourth ball is a good ball, do you take the single? You never know if you will get the strike back.
If the fourth ball is a yorker and there is eight to get, I am not taking the single. If I am batting with Boucher or Pollock, I will. If it is Ntini, or even if Boucher or Polly has just walked in as well. Just about giving yourself the best chance. Someone has just walked in, the ball is reversing a little bit, whether you win by one run or three runs, it doesn't matter.

1999 World Cup semi-final:

1999 World Cup semi-final: "I am upset with myself that I had done all the hard work and then I didn't do the easy part" © PA Photos

Some people will get upset: why aren't you running? But they are not here. They are not really understanding what I am trying to do. "No, why didn't you run, why didn't you do this?" Because I have a plan, and I am trusting my plan. Hindsight is 20-20 vision. You need to be a little thick-skinned as well, to be able to take the criticism.

In the second half of your career, now you have built yourself a reputation, you know you back yourself to do it. Do you sometimes overestimate yourself and then get in trouble? Because, you know, "It's me"?
Definitely. I think towards the back end of your career, you are older, you are not practising as hard. In your mind, you're thinking you have done it before.

Have you hit 500 balls the day before? If not, you are bullshitting yourself. Sometimes you need to bullshit yourself. You need to. But you need to be realistic about it. Definitely, you know, you can overestimate yourself.

Can you give me an example each of good bullshitting and bad bullshitting you have done to yourself?
Bullshitting comes from when you are not quite there on the day. I think you have to bullshit yourself and say…

It's me, I am Lance Klusener.
Of course. Why not?

And we are going to do this.

Look, there was a lot going on even in the '99 [World Cup] semi-final. When you find your way out, you start, "Oh we are not going to do this. Oh, this is a good team. [Glenn] McGrath has still got to bowl. [Shane] Warne has got a few." Then you actually start saying you are a good player. It is about building yourself up, even if you have to bullshit yourself. Then it can click. You get a four away and suddenly, "Gee, I can get this." [clicks tongue]

Sometimes bullshitting occurs early when you actually think it is a tough job and you don't know how you are going to do it. That's when you have to step in. In those games, especially early in the innings, you have got to actually try to convince yourself somehow that you can do this against these guys.

"There is a constant battle with that little man who sits on your shoulder and talks rubbish in your ear and says, 'You are going to get out now', 'That boundary is too big to clear', 'Don't hit this side'"

Bad bullshitting is when you think you are better than you are. "Who is this guy bowling the last over?" "We have got this."

Is there a red flag?
There is a constant battle with that little man who sits on your shoulder and talks rubbish in your ear and says, "You are going to get out now", "That boundary is too big to clear", "Don't hit this side." He will give you a thousand reasons to not trust yourself. It's about managing that little gremlin. When everything is telling you this is the bowler to target, the man on your shoulder is telling you he is not. That's the constant battle.

Sometimes he is not there and it is quite peaceful. You back yourself and start confidently. Other days he is sitting there talking rubbish in your ear and that's when you have got to have those conversations you have with yourself, trying to win a game. People think you are calm but inside you are just battling.

The 1999 semi-final - everybody talks about it. You did your job and you didn't do it. How difficult is it to get over it? Are you over it?
Yes. And you are right, but getting one off the last ball, that's not hard. I can do that. All the hard work was done. And then you just didn't do what you needed to do. Yes, we could have waited and hit the next ball for four. Yes, we could have waited and got bowled out and people would have asked: "Why didn't you run the ball before?" That's the tough way of looking at it.

I am upset with myself that I had done all the hard work and then I didn't do the easy part. That's the regret. It's not just that game but lots of other games where we need two off the last ball and I miss a fricking ball that I have practised a thousand times. I think that's the regret I have.

To look at it in hindsight, that's something that makes you frustrated. But who's to say you wouldn't get a good ball and hit it to cover or get bowled? "Oh, the ball before, you could have snuck one." And I would be living with the same story.

Do you watch that video again?
No. I was there. I don't need to watch it. I know what happened.

It's always on somewhere. So I have seen it numerous times. I have never put it on. It is always playing somewhere.

Do you look away?
No, it doesn't bother me. I know what happens. I have seen the movie before. I made the movie.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo