In popular culture, the number 7 has its unique place. Loaded with good fortune, it’s treated with some eminence. The seven colours of the rainbow present an example.
Another lucky number, according to popular myths and beliefs is 9. The cat lives nine lives, they say. But, in quite an opposite regard, one’s told to keep off from the number 13. Who wants bad omen after all?
But can a number have significance to Cricket? Is there a tale to number 8?
Upon some thought, you’d realise where modern South African cricket stands, there was always a great relevance to the number 8. And particularly from the standpoint of playing against South Africa, one was well-advised to watch out for this number.
For there was a bloke who often came into bat, at this position, often in the face of critical match situations, with a lot of damage having already been wrecked and often, with a great deal remaining to be inflicted.
No other batsman was able to destruct opponents with such ease despite batting so low in the batting order as Lance Klusener.
In the same wavelength, no other batsman lifted his side through thrilling feats as built by Lance Klusener from no 8. Few mainstream batsmen are regarded for plundering 1056 ODI runs from number 8.
Did Klusener truly get the regard he deserved?
And at the same time, mirroring a bit of a Carl Hooper-like reticence and Andrew Symonds-like disassociation from the game or perhaps a border-line aloofness for that lack of respect, he didn’t seem to mind also.
For a batsman, who one often forgot, was a proper all-rounder, the (strange) absurdity of ignoring Klusener’s real versatility seems often conveniently covered by his own slam-bam batting style.
Does the fault lie in viewers’ identifying the sport overly being a batsman’s regime?
Could it be that Klusener’s mighty prowess from a position before which all frontline batsmen would depart was itself responsible for his exclusion when it comes to recounting some of cricket’s finest all-rounders?
Whatever it is, it warrants some introspection and augurs for a reassessment of sorts.
But here’s what seems apt.
Long before Hollywood produced in Keanu Reeves, a John Wick, to prey on the baddies, the Proteas turned to their own John Wick of the late nineties and the mid-2000s; Lance Klusener.
Long before Gayle emerged on the scene and sent fielders on a ball-hunt, even before Sir Viv identified a bit of himself in Sehwag, in Lance Klusener, South Africa had found the ideal bogeyman for bowlers.
Klusener often batted as if he was handed over a hit-list and his job was to eliminate bowlers.
Lance Klusener couldn’t stand the idea of the ball dominating.
In his books, it wasn’t allowed.
It was suddenly as if anyone and everyone including Lee and Shoaib, McGrath and Fleming, Vaas and Murali, Warne to Sajeewa de Silva weren’t allowed to bowl maiden overs. He did that on many occasions for bowlers to ever emerge out of the scorn he enforced. But above any example to quote, nothing would suffice other than highlighting his 1999 exploits.
Perhaps the thrill and carnage, all at the same time, was evident in Klusener’s surgical dissection of Fleming, as he first took South Africa near their target- 213- only later to commit a harakiri in the form of a run-out.
As fans, you were distraught and stunned.
It was as if the assassin had shot himself at the end and that too, from a point-blank range. The collapse was certain. Just that Klusener had elevated the mood to a level from which there seemed no possibility of a fall, in the form of his 16-ball-31.
In those days, strike rates pointing to the north of 190 were unimaginable.
But there was a fact.
Nothing was impossible for Lance Klusener.
It’s something few learnt wisely.
For instance, the Sri Lankans didn’t learn it when bowling to South Africa in the Wills quadrangular finals in 1999, they came up against Lance and didn’t learn about giving him room.
A little gap outside off was sufficient for the man epitomizing the Zulu warrior to carve horrendous fortunes for bowlers.
On the first ball of the 13th over, South Africa, already two down in pursuit of 210, saw Klusener, instead of eschewing the idea of slowing down, slapping back a fuller one from di Silva absolutely straight down the ground.
He didn’t hit it. He smoked it.
Guess what? He was up in number 3. He’d absolutely gunned down the Lankans in compiling arguably one of cricket’s most underrated 99 run knocks ever wherein he’d face only 96 deliveries.
4 years later, in another world cup, when Klusener, who’d achieved cult-status being the man of the tournament in 1999, didn’t answer with his bat, he single-handedly chewed out Kenya in a league game.
That 4 for 16 came off 8 overs.
He was both, an overwhelming producer of runs and a miser at giving away some when he took over the ball.
What’s both sad and bewildering, at the same time that whenever one refers to Klusener, the first thoughts of him are about being a sledgehammer with the pads on and the bat pointing to hills, as if indicating bowlers to where they’d be guided to.
One doesn’t quite remember the 192 wickets from 171 ODIs. One hardly reflects on his 6 five-wicket hauls. If you needed a career hardly assessed in the wake of its immense manifestation, it’s Lance Klusener’s.
And in this convenient sidelining of this enigma of sorts, we understand the true meaning of what was the Proteas Fire then.
Cricket produced a spoiler alert for bowlers when Lance Kluesner walked out to bat. It was like imagining a bully spoil the first day of a new kid on the school block. The painstaking effort with which one built castles of wickets with sweat and rigour, would turn into sand castles. McGrath and Fleming, on occasions, were petulant children who’d cringe with animosity seeing Klusener toy with them.
Perhaps, there was a great sense as to why Lance Klusener, who’s turned 47, batted the way he did.
Was Lance Klusener a perplexing enigma?
If Lara’s backlift was high, then Klusener’s was higher. It also, in effect, indicated the peaks he’d attain for South Africa, raising a mighty spark in the Proteas fire.
It was about the many highs he gained as a batsman- nearly 800 runs vs Aussies, 558 vs the Kiwis, 571 vs Lankans, 415 against the Windies- of his 3500 plus ODI poundings and the many he couldn’t achieve, perhaps truncating his own journey with South Africa, when it could’ve lasted longer.
There’s no reason why Klusener didn’t go on to contest beyond 34 when he’d only arrived into the game at 26. And in that bittersweet feeling that leaves one speculating as to what he might’ve been, rests the enigma of one of Cricket’s lesser-worshipped mortals.