Lance Klusener, the unsung superstar of the World Cup

Indra Vikram Singh

Lance Klusener's batting average of 124 and strike-rate of 121.17 are by far best in the World Cup.

Lance Klusener had, in 1999, a World Cup that all young cricketers dream of. Not surprisingly, he was man-of-the-tournament in his first appearance in the showpiece event.

A swashbuckling left-handed lower middle-order batsman, and open-chested right-arm medium pacer who bowled from wide of the crease, Klusener was in prime form with both bat and ball throughout the tournament. He won four man-of-the-match awards, three of them consecutively, in the nine matches.

Klusener almost carried South Africa to the final off his own blade - his would have been the winning hit had Allan Donald not been run out. It would have been his party but for that incident. Even so, no man has dominated a single World Cup the way Klusener did in 1999.

Scyld Berry, writing in The Telegraph, described Klusener thus: “A pace bowler who hits the deck hard. A batsman who hits the ball harder still with the heaviest bludgeon around.”

Klusener’s bat weighed 3lb 2oz (about 1.5 kg), heavier than the willow Clive Lloyd wielded.

In the first match Klusener made a vital breakthrough, inducing Indian maestro Sachin Tendulkar to edge the ball to Mark Boucher. He broke a century partnership between Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, castling the latter. Finally, he had skipper Mohammad Azharuddin caught by Nicky Boje. Klusener finished with three for 66 off 10 overs.

As the match got tense towards the end, Klusener blasted three boundaries off the four deliveries that he faced to seal the win.

By the time South Africa took on Sri Lanka, Klusener was in his element. The defending champions felt the full weight of his bludgeoning blade just when it seemed that they had the Proteas on their knees.

Klusener walked in at 115 for seven, and lost Daryll Cullinan at 122. The bounce as well as movement in the air, and off the wicket, had all the batsmen in trouble, but Klusener was in awesome touch. He took his chances, as he usually did, and hammered the ball all over the ground.

He added 77 for the last two wickets with tailenders Steve Elworthy and Allan Donald. Chaminda Vaas, who along with Muttiah Muralitharan had hounded every batsman, was hit for 22 runs in the 50th over, including sixes off the last two deliveries. Klusener hit 5 fours besides the 2 sixes in his unbeaten 52 off just 45 deliveries.

The Sri Lankan wickets fell like nine pins. This time Klusener came on to complete the last rites. He dismissed Upul Chandana, Vaas and Pramodaya Wickramasinghe in quick succession to ensure that there was no rearguard action by the tail.

Klusener’s three wickets cost 21 runs in 5.2 overs. There was no other contender for the man-of-the-match award.

The next encounter was with the hosts England. Promoted two places to No. 7, Klusener blasted the bowlers once again. He put on an unbroken 57 for the eighth wicket with Mark Boucher. Klusener’s unbeaten 48 came off 40 balls with a six and 3 fours.

With the ball, he dismissed Robert Croft, finishing with one for 16 in 6 overs. He was again man-of-the-match.

The part-timers from Kenya had no clue against the swinging deliveries of Klusener. After Elworthy and Donald had done the early damage, Klusener ran through the lower half.

He first dismissed star batsman Steve Tikolo, having him caught by skipper Hansie Cronje. Next ball, he trapped Thomas Odoyo leg-before. Kenyan captain Asif Karim came in to face the hat-trick delivery. It was a yorker, which Karim managed to dig out.

Soon, Klusener induced Alpesh Vadher to hit a shoulder-high return catch to his right. He went on to wind up the Kenyan innings, knocking back the stumps of Mohammad Sheikh and Joseph Angara. The irrepressible all-rounder had bagged five for 21 off 8.3 overs, for which he was bestowed with his third successive man-of-the-match award.

Thus far it was smooth sailing for South Africa. But they suffered an unexpected reverse at the hands of Zimbabwe.

Klusener took the wicket of Murray Goodwin, but when he came in to bat South Africa were a miserable 106 for seven, chasing a target of 234. He tried to retrieve the situation in the company of Shaun Pollock, who departed at 149. Elworthy fell a run later.

With the overs running out, Klusener made a last-ditch effort with No. 11 Donald for company. He farmed the bowling, and at the same time played characteristically belligerent strokes. But the task was too great.

With 16 deliveries remaining and 49 runs still to get, Donald succumbed to Henry Olonga. Klusener was left stranded on 52 which he had scored off 58 balls - slow by his standards - with 2 sixes and 3 fours.

In this tournament it was felt that Klusener was being sent in to bat far too late. This match was a case in point. Had he batted higher he may have pulled off a win, or at least he might not have run out of partners. 

The first Super Six match presented a big test as Pakistan were one of the favourites. Klusener took the wicket of Ijaz Ahmed and Pakistan posted 220 for seven in 50 overs. This time Klusener walked in at 135 for six.

Jacques Kallis helped him add 41, after which Mark Boucher stepped into the breach. South Africa needed 44 off five overs.

They used only four of these as Klusener waded into the bowling, which comprised the great left-armer Wasim Akram, speedster Shoaib Akhtar - who had struck deadly blows at the start of the innings - and the wily off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq.

Klusener finished triumphant with 46 off 41 balls with 3 sixes and 3 fours. There was yet another man-of-the-match prize in his bag, the fourth in five matches. Skipper Hansie Cronje acknowledged his invaluable contribution: “The more trouble we get ourselves in, the more he seems to be prepared to pull us out.”

Klusener registered his first failure with the bat when he was sent in at No. 3 against New Zealand. Perhaps the critics were wrong after all. Klusener was bowled by the naggingly accurate Gavin Larsen for 4.

However, he picked up the vital wickets of the belligerent Chris Cairns and Roger Twose as South Africa won easily.

Even as ‘Zulu’ Klusener disappointed with the bat in this match, he posted a new record in ODIs for the highest number of runs in a sequence before being dismissed. He was out for the first time in 10 innings after scoring 400 runs between 2nd February 1999 and 10th June 1999. His run of scores was 103 not out, 35 not out, 13 not out, 35 not out, 12 not out, 52 not out, 48 not out, 52 not out, 46 not out and 4.

The previous record was held by Javed Miandad who scored 398 runs before being dismissed after 7 innings between 20th September 1982 and 9th June 1983.

This was Klusener’s first dismissal in the World Cup after playing 6 innings, in which he rattled off 214 runs.

In the crucial last Super Six match, South Africa seemed to have scored enough runs, not least due to Klusener’s blitzkrieg. However, they did not reckon with a resolute Australian skipper Steve Waugh and a gift of a dropped catch that had already been taken by Herschelle Gibbs. The bowler.....Klusener. 

Nevertheless, Cronje seemed to have got it just right by sending Klusener at No. 6. He thrashed the ball around in his inimitable style, and 49 runs came in the last 5 overs.

Klusener hit 36 off 21 balls with a six and 4 fours before holing out in the last over. He lifted South Africa from 219 for four in the 45th over to 271 for seven at the end of the 50th over.

Klusener later broke the 126-run fourth-wicket partnership between Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh, but that was not enough to pull off a win.

The two teams met again in that nail-biting tied semi-final. This time Australia batted first and posted a moderate total of 213. Klusener was again inexplicably demoted to No. 8, and he came in with South Africa gasping for breath at 175 for six.

Pollock departed at 183. 30 runs were needed off the last four overs. Klusener set about the bowling.

But he soon lost Boucher and Elworthy too. When last man Donald walked in, there were still 16 runs to get off 8 deliveries. Klusener hammered seven off Glenn McGrath's last two balls.

At the beginning of the last over, nine runs remained. Klusener smashed the first two deliveries from Damien Fleming for boundaries. The scores were level.

Donald was nearly run out off the third delivery, so he decided to stay put off the next as Klusener played towards Mark Waugh and took off. There was utter confusion that ended with Donald’s run out.

The match was tied.

Klusener had taken South Africa to the brink of victory, and their first World Cup final, but destiny willed otherwise. It was Australia who advanced jubilantly to the final, having won their previous encounter.

The hero of the tournament returned crestfallen. There was not to be a happy ending to the fairytale; such is the cruel twist of fate sometimes. 

Fabulous though his batting figures were, they did not fully reveal his awesome hitting throughout the tournament. It would be hard to match the sustained aggression over a long period the way Klusener showcased.

His wicket-taking ability was a huge bonus to a team rich in pace bowling resources. Teammate Jacques Kallis paid tribute to the brilliant all-rounder: “He is a kind of guy you would like to take to war with you.”

One match away from having a dream tournament, Klusener left no doubt in anyone’s mind about who the real star of the 1999 World Cup was.

Even though South Africa fared disastrously in the World Cup they hosted in 2003, Klusener’s own love affair with the event continued during the limited opportunities that he got. Injuries had forced him to cut down his run-up, drastically reducing his speed, but he could still bowl the odd incisive spell.

In the couple of innings that he batted, he almost reproduced his form of 1999. His personal efforts could not be faulted in the midst of all the gloom.

The opening day produced a shocker. South Africa, one of the favourities, were beaten by a resurgent West Indies side in a thriller.

Docked an over for slow over-rate, the Proteas needed a mammoth 279 to win. Klusener, playing his 150th ODI in a seven-year career, joined Boucher at 160 for six. They battled on but when Boucher was dismissed, another 75 were needed off 49 balls.

Nicky Boje was an admirable foil and as the innings progressed, it seemed that the two left-handers might snatch an exciting win. There were 9 runs required off the last over, then 8 off four deliveries.

Klusener, who had already hit five huge sixes on the on-side, pulled again. This time his skier was taken by Carl Hooper. He was gone for 57 off 48 balls. South Africa could not pull it off, losing by 3 runs.     

That really was the story of the South Africans in a tournament they had toiled so hard to stage; they failed by a whisker when it mattered. They did make amends as they took on Kenya next, racing to a 10-wicket win.

This time Klusener shone with the ball, coming on in the latter part of the innings. Before that he ran out top-scorer Ravindu Shah as the Kenyans lost half the side for less than a hundred.

Klusener had Maurice Odumbe caught by Herschelle Gibbs, and trapped Collins Obuya leg-before first ball. Soon he sent back Martin Suji, also for a duck.

As Peter Ongondo tried to use the long handle, Klusener dismissed him too. Klusener finished with four for 16 off his 8 overs and took home his fifth man-of-the-match prize of the World Cup.

South Africa seemed to have got their act together as they racked up 306 off the New Zealand attack. Klusener bludgeoned an unbeaten 33 off 21 deliveries with four boundaries and a six. Sadly for him though, a sterling rain-interrupted century by Stephen Fleming ruined the party once again.

The Proteas were not destined to triumph on their own turf. And that was also the end of Klusener’s heroics. Coincidentally, he was at the crease at the end of both tied matches in World Cup history, this time against Sri Lanka, and on each occasion South Africa were knocked out of the premier tournament. 

Five others - Vivian Richards, Graham Gooch, Sanath Jayasuriya, Glenn McGrath and AB de Villiers - have won five man-of-the-match awards in the World Cup. Only Sachin Tendulkar with nine has more. Two others - Aravinda de Silva and Yuvraj Singh - have won four man-of-the-match awards in a single World Cup. The only other player to win three consecutive man-of-the-match awards in the World Cup is Graham Gooch.

Klusener will have bitter-sweet memories of the World Cup. One of its most brilliant all-rounders, he saw his team faltering at crucial times. His batting average of 124 and strike-rate of 121.17 runs per 100 balls are by far best in the World Cup.

Lance Klusener in the World Cup 

Batting

1999: Matches 9, Runs 281, Average 140.50, Strike-rate 122.17

2003: Matches 5, Runs 91, Average 91.00, Strike-rate 118.18

Total: Matches 14, Runs 372, Average 124.00, Strike-rate 121.17

Bowling

1999: Wickets 17, Average 20.58, Economy rate 4.61

2003: Wickets 5, Average 27.40, Economy rate 5.48

Total: Wickets 22, Average 22.13, Economy rate 4.82

Also read - Most man of the match awards winner in world cup

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