Heinrich Klaasen brought up his maiden World Cup ton off 61 balls

The hitmaker: since the start of 2023, Heinrich Klaasen has a T20 batting strike rate of 181

Alex Davidson / © ICC/Getty Images


Heinrich Klaasen: 'The moment my bat swing is good, I know what to do'

The South African big hitter breaks down his approach to six-hitting, physically and mentally

Interview by Nagraj Gollapudi  |  

Heinrich Klaasen has been in phenomenal T20 form since the start of 2023, hitting innumerable sixes and striking at over 180. AB de Villiers ranks him as the best player of spin in the format currently. How does Klaasen do what he does the best? During the IPL, where he played for Sunrisers Hyderabad, Klaasen spoke to us in depth about his power-hitting, working out his bat swing, and his mindset while hitting sixes.

Is there a ground big enough where you won't be able to hit a six?
It depends on the mindset. Sometimes the inner ring [the 30-yard circle] feels too far.

These days the grounds are not really big unless you play in Australia. Some of the UK fields are a decent hit. In India, I feel like all the grounds are relatively short. The [boundaries] start at 60 metres and go to 75. So, yeah, the grounds are getting smaller. Hopefully, it stays like that, makes hitting sixes a little bit easier (smiles).

Does knowing the ground dimensions and boundary size have an effect on your mindset?
Not really. It's just figuring out if you have to fight the bounce or not, and what positions you get into. Sometimes it's better to hit the ball up in the air because the boundary is a little bit shorter than the others. It's just to formulate a little bit of a gameplan. That's the only thing that matters.

Since the start of 2023, only Nicholas Pooran has hit more sixes than you have, but he has faced more deliveries than you. From May last year, you have hit a six every 6.9 balls on average. So far this IPL, you have hit a six every 6.73 balls. Ridiculous numbers.
The funny thing is, I recently asked Faf [du Plessis] how he became so consistent and successful in the IPL. He said the owners only care about guys that hit sixes and can win you games (laughs).

It has started getting more and more about the prep we do. I do a lot of [bat] swing drills to make sure your swing is good and understand what your swing requires. And because every swing is unique, that's just something you have to keep on training for to make it [part of the muscle] memory. I have been fortunate enough to hit the ball sweetly over the last two years.

Sometimes it becomes a mental game more than anything else because people want to see you hit sixes, so you fight that urge to hit sixes from ball one. [I] saw Nicholas Pooran did it [against Delhi Capitals on May 14]. Second ball: a big six, and then he just kept going. Sometimes you have to fight the self [to curb the urge to hit a six every ball]. This season I have been fighting myself quite a bit as I have got out unnecessarily [doing that].

You have played in similar situations where you enter after a batting collapse. Is hitting a six first ball about transferring the pressure onto the opposition straight away and saying, 'I'm not bogged down by the challenge'?
Yes, we both have a reputation of hitting spinners. And there's certain bowlers that we believe we are strong against. Whether it is hitting from ball one or however many deliveries you have faced, you always try to take that risk against those bowlers. You set the tempo. In Pooran's example, that bowler [left-arm spinner Axar Patel] was there [to be hit] from ball one, so he swings it. He doesn't have to really look at the conditions. If the ball is there to be hit, he can just trust his swing and it'll be good.

Those balls-per-six numbers give us an idea of your intent. You have the best conversion - 70% - in terms of translating intent into runs.
It's more calculated than anything else. If you really break down those numbers, I don't think I hit [a delivery] every six balls for a six. It's just a match-up in the innings. I know if I give myself the opportunity, I'll hit three in a row or five in seven balls or something, which gets the [balls-per-six] numbers a little bit down. So it's also understanding your game plan and knowing what your ability is, how much you can catch up with the scores. You saw that with Stubbo [Tristan Stubbs in the DC vs LSG match] as well: he got off to a slow start, but because of his ability to hit boundaries and sixes, he could just catch up so quickly.

"My power comes from my hip drive, my legs and then hand speed" Bikas Das / © Associated Press

This IPL has broken the record for the number of sixes hit in the tournament. Batters like you, Travis Head, Abhishek Sharma, Sunil Narine, Phil Salt, Jake Fraser-McGurk and Stubbs are able to hit as many sixes as possible when you have that plan and favourable match-ups. You did it in the last SA20 too, easily. Is rotating the strike no more part of the thought process?
For guys like myself, Pooran and Stubbo, it's still a big part of our game. The other guys you mentioned are openers, so rotating the strike for them is a little bit harder because there are more players in the inner ring. They know they just have to clear 40 metres and they will get the boundary, or they only have to beat one or two blokes on the fence.

We [non-openers] are still worried about five guys out [in the outfield], so we still formulate the plans and know that the biggest thing to strike rate is, no dots. The moment you face fewer dots, the higher the strike rate, because we are boundary-hitters. We know that this is the guy I want to take down, so if it's not a four or six, it needs to be a two. You don't want to waste that delivery. Strike rotation is big, especially for the three of us. The other guys have the luxury that they can face two-three dots and [then] they just have to get it over the inner ring or pass the inner ring and it's four or six.

Let's talk about your 63 against Kolkata Knight Riders in Sunrisers Hyderabad's first match this season. When SRH needed 60 off the final three overs, you were on 22 off 17 balls. From there, you nearly took them to a win. Can you revisit that innings?
I struggled big time in that game. It's a game I actually put into my memory bank due to all the feelings I felt. I couldn't move my legs, didn't know how to stand, I didn't know how to swing the bat. Those first couple of balls, I was so nervous. Then it came to a stage where you just have to pull the trigger, you can't wait any longer. And I'm a guy that's not worried about my stats. It's all for the team. So there comes a point where you have to just [tell yourself]: if I get out, it's fine. You can't delay it any longer.

And luckily [Varun] Chakravarthy came on [in the 15th over] and bowled one or two in the slot that I got away with. But in that over there were two dots that frustrated me big time. Next over, [Mitchell] Starc came in and I still couldn't get the rhythm. But next two overs, starting with the ball in the slot that I hit nicely [Klaasen hit a six off the first ball of the 18th over by Chakravarthy], everything just settled.

Klaasen on his 174 not out against Australia:

Klaasen on his 174 not out against Australia: "That was an innings where everything just goes right. I was so still, I was hitting it with a good tempo swing. I wasn't over-hitting" © AFP/Getty Images

In my memory bank, I know that I can delay it [hitting] till a certain point and when I get my rhythm, I can go. I just sometimes have to hold [back] a little bit. But in that innings, there were too many dots. That made me feel a little bit uncomfortable. That's why strike rotation is part of my notes - that if you struggle, just get off strike, make sure there are no dots, so when you catch up, you can go bigger.

When does the dot ball start troubling you?
With five guys in the outfield, you don't want more than five dot balls in the innings. I don't mind if you bowl me a good bumper and it's a dot or it's a good yorker and you have to squeeze it out. So it also depends on the type of dot ball.

If you keep hitting the inner-ring fielders or not rotating [the strike with singles or twos] to the side that you want the ball to go, which then creates a dot, or you have lazy movement and you miss the ball - it is those types of things that frustrate you more than anything else. You can't do anything about it when the bowler actually bowls a good ball and it's a dot. They also get paid big money to bowl. So it's not necessarily the amount of dots, it is how the dots come about. If you can limit those easy dots, rotate for a single or a two, that makes a big difference.

In the next match, at home against Mumbai Indians, you scored 80 off 34 balls. In the death overs you hit a low full toss at 141kph from Jasprit Bumrah for a straight four, with minimal backlift, beating long-off. You made it look easy, but clearly it is a difficult stroke to execute.
I have been training for two years to hit low full tosses. Albie Morkel was a big fan of that. In my eyes, he was one of the best big hitters in the world, and I have been fortunate enough that he helped me a little bit as well. There was a stage where, a few years ago, I couldn't find my swing. I didn't have the ability to hit sixes, so I asked him to help me and that was the drill we did. It's one of the drills through which you easily understand your swing, find your swing, what balance you need if your swing cuts in.

"I hate batting in nets. A lot of players might look a million dollars in the nets, but they don't score any runs [in the match]" Matthew Lewis / © ICC/Getty Images

Obviously, in the drill you can experiment on the balls that are just missing [that are low full tosses], or the ball's just a little bit higher, then you get a good full swing into that. And a lot of bowlers do miss that [yorker that becomes a] low full toss, so we do set up for that.

That night Bumrah nailed his yorkers, so we were more setting up for that slower ball, just to get off strike. And I was hoping that he almost went for the yorker. He was bowling quite decent pace, so then you don't have to have a big full swing; you can just make sure that you have good connection. And that's what happened on that ball.

Can you tell us more about the bat swing that Morkel worked with you on?
We basically worked from scratch. We didn't try to change the technique. We just worked on the basics of the swing because I normally stood up when I tried to hit sixes and he just explained the technique of the swing, what we have to do, how hard you have to swing, where do we go to find the tempo of the swing.

Like I said earlier, your swing will be unique, but you can find your swing in that drill. We just worked on how big my stride needs to be, what my set-up looks like. Then you hit a couple, you swing as hard as you can and you bring it back to find your tempo to make sure you get that consistency. So we just built it up for two, three days to find my swing.

When was this?
In 2021, close to the domestic T20 competition we had in Port Elizabeth [Gqeberha].

"If you struggle, just get off strike, make sure there are no dots, so when you catch up, you can even go bigger" Dibyangshu Sarkar / © AFP/Getty Images

During your 174 not out against Australia in Centurion in 2023, you looked to be holding your shape and balance well. Do you agree?
That was an innings where everything just goes right, and that's also a game that I normally go to see what happens when I get it right - just to refresh the memory, and give yourself that extra bit of confidence.

In that game I was so still, I was hitting it with a good tempo swing. I wasn't over-hitting. Even in the game against Mumbai [in the 2024 IPL], I didn't hit all the balls cleanly, but my swing and my position was so good that I got away with a lot of things.

The last couple of games this IPL, I haven't really found my swing, so it's also easy to lose your swing (laughs). It's very important to keep fine-tuning the swing and get that into the memory bank.

What about that 106-metre six against Lockie Ferguson in Bengaluru?
He hit me a couple of times on the inner thigh. I have always wanted to hit the ball onto the rooftop there [at the Chinnaswamy Stadium], but I didn't expect to hit it that straight. I knew he wasn't coming in too full, so I was only looking to pick it up; it was part of all the drills I do. That one was a perfect example of me just watching the ball and my body taking over and the swing just taking care of everything. There was good pace and balance on the wicket as well. That is also a big factor.

You bend your knees slightly in your stance. Has it always been like that?
It's always been there. I'm a very lazy person, so if I don't do that, I get too lazy in my set-up and from there things can go badly wrong for me! My set-up is very important because from there I don't move a lot. It's more [about] just watching the ball and moving in small centimetres than anything else.

Also, against spinners, your back knee is slightly bent. Are you trying to derive power from that kind of position when you are hitting?
Yeah, definitely. That's where my power base will come from. My left or my front foot needs to give me the freedom I want to get the hands going. It's almost my anchor, from where I create all my power, and then that leg either gets out of the way or gets in line to make me hit.

And all this comes easy?
No (chuckles). Even last night in the nets [I found it hard]. Sometimes when you just stand in the crease, you feel uncomfortable. Then it's so difficult to find that balance. I had a bad net session last night of finding that feet movement. The longer you bat, the more it settles and then it becomes better. So [the fluency in positioning] is not always there from the start. That's where you have to fight yourself a little bit just to know that what you are doing is the right thing and be mentally very strong. Sometimes it's there from ball one and you feel good and then you can be a little more aggressive.

Does a bad net session have an impact on match day?
Luckily for me, not too much. If it's really that bad, you will just slightly change your gameplan - in the mental part of things, like you watch the ball a little bit closer. I hate batting in nets. A lot of players might look a million dollars in the nets, but they don't score any runs [in the match]. For me, it's more about finding my swing. The moment my swing is good, I know what I have to do and it becomes a mental game after that.

In the 25 Questions video interview we did with you recently, you said you would lose an arm-wrestling contest with Marcus Stoinis [Klaasen's Durban's Super Giants team-mate] because you don't have strong arms. So where are you getting that power to hit that hard and that far?
It's a combination of a couple of things. My power comes from my hip drive, my legs and then hand speed. The timing plays a big role. I don't think I'm that weak in the arms. I can still bully the ball, but against Stoinis, I will definitely lose every arm-wrestle. But yeah, for me, it's more hand speed and the hip drive - or the hip snap, as we call it - that makes the impact.

"I recently asked Faf [du Plessis] how he became so consistent and successful in the IPL. He said the owners only care about guys that hit sixes and can win you games" Faheem Hussain / © BCCI

Does having clarity of thought also help? I heard that Kieron Pollard suggested you stay still and focus on one ball at a time and not get distracted by using every shot you possess.
Hundred per cent. He said he's strong enough to hit every ball for six if it's in his slot. He backs himself, if he executes, to win eight out of ten games. If you execute, you don't have to do a lot because if you have a certain aura in the crease, the bowlers know that if they miss, you will execute and they will lose the battle. So that helped me get away from trying to play a lap, a reverse lap and then want to hit the bowler over the head. It cleared my mind a little bit.

What about expanding your scoring areas? You said one shot you'd like to take from another batter is Suryakumar Yadav's scoop.
You obviously experiment and try to access as much as you possibly can. I know I can play 360 [degrees around the ground]. I do train for all the shots that I don't really play in the game. I played a lap for the first time against Boulty [Trent Boult] the other day, so I do have all the shots. You still try to expand the game because the bowlers are getting different plans and when they nail it, you don't want to be too one-dimensional. The game went past that stage a long time ago. It's just about going into the game knowing which is your first option and which is the second.

Has golf or baseball played a part in your bat swing?
You always refer to your golf swing a little bit. Luckily, my bat swing is better than my golf swing! If I had to do it the other way around, I would not be sitting here. But I do watch a lot of baseball videos. I'm trying to meet one of the baseball coaches this year when I play Major League Cricket in the USA. The Seattle Orcas [Klaasen's MLC franchise] are setting that up.

I do watch a lot of the baseball players' techniques and the way they set up. I have a similar set-up. Obviously, there's a lot that we have to do differently [in cricket], but if the ball is in the slot, there's a lot of similarities about the [way you can use] the bottom part of your body. I would like to chat to them about it and why they focus so much on that. So I refer more to a baseball stance than the golf swing. If you needed strength, I don't think you can get a better lower-body movement than in baseball.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo