Cricket lovers are likely to remember Lance Klusener more for his outstanding performance in the 1999 World Cup in England rather than anything else. But fact is there was more to the South African's career than just the twentieth century's last quadrennial cricket showpiece.
Indians in particular have reason to remember Klusener with awe for his exciting Test debut at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata in 1996. He rocked the Indian second innings with figures of 8 for 64 and not only helped South Africa win by 329 runs but also level the three-Test series 1-1. The Proteas eventually lost the rubber 2-1.
Klusener later emerged as a powerful batsman with a penchant to strike the ball savagely. But for the scurvy treatment meted out by the selectors in the later part of his career, he would probably have played many more Tests and ODIs. Nevertheless, even in the 49 Tests and 169 ODIs he played for South Africa, he did enough with bat and ball to be considered one of the better all-rounders of the modern era.
Haresh Pandya spoke with him during the Indian Cricket League tournament in Chandigarh.
How do you look back and assess your career?
I look back at my career with a happy feeling. In a way, mine was an eventful career, I think. Obviously, I feel glad that I had an opportunity to represent my country. International cricket was certainly good to me. It's something I can always look back and feel extremely proud of.
But considering your undoubted talents and some noticeable achievements, the end was a bit of an anti-climax, wasn't it? Don't you think you received scurvy treatment from the selectors towards the end of your career? You were almost a superstar after the 1999 World Cup in England
I never felt like a superstar; never behaved like one. The treatment from the selectors was never a problem with me. I was always keen on playing County cricket in England and I was happy when Northamptonshire gave me an opportunity. So it was probably a good thing in the end. At the end of the day, your form justifies your place in international cricket. You are chosen in your national team on the basis of your form. I think my form wasn't good enough at the time you're referring to. It was probably one of the reasons why I wasn't considered.
Like many cricketers, did you suffer from some psychological fear of sorts that you might not be playing the next game or series, especially when you were not a regular member of the South African team?
The psychological fear or pressure is always a factor. But I don't think it was something I was consciously too much aware of at the time. I've played a fair amount of international cricket and I'm happy about that. It's really not something I've thought too much about psychological fear or whatever you call it.
You are being sporting enough. But the fact remains that you did not play as many Tests and ODIs as a player of your ability should have. Don't you think so?
I consider myself lucky enough to have played whatever cricket I've for my country. So, no regrets, no worries! Some people don't get an opportunity to represent their country despite being very talented.
You were rumoured to have what they call an attitude problem. Was it true?
Oh! I don't know! Well, everyone is entitled to an opinion on that. But no further comment on that!
If not complete satisfaction, have you retired with some sense of achievement?
I've already told you in answer to your first question that I'm proud of having played for South Africa and whatever I've achieved. It's something I'll never give up for anything.
How do you look back at the 1999 World Cup in England?
It was probably the best phase of my career. I had been certainly hitting the ball very nicely in 1998-1999. To be chosen as the Player of the Tournament was, I think, just reward for hitting the ball well and bowling well in the World Cup.
It must have been very disappointing in the end for you and South Africa for having failed to make it to the final
Yes, it was very disappointing. But, to be honest, I don't think we played well as a team during the whole World Cup. I think if we had played a bit better, and maybe bowled a little better as well, we would have reached the final and really challenged our opponent.
What are your memories of the nail-biting semi-final against the eventual champion Australia, in which you and Allan Donald were at the centre of action in the end?
I think so much has been made out of it because we lost it narrowly after a misunderstanding between Donald and me. It was one of those tense moments. It was certainly an exciting match. But that's what makes cricket such an exciting sport. If such things don't take place, it won't be so exciting to come and watch cricket. Such incidents definitely make cricket very exciting. It was just unfortunate that the things didn't work out for us. But that's the nature of the sport.
Did any member of the South African side or the team management say anything to you and Donald before and after the semifinal?
No. It was pretty simple. We needed one run off three balls. Unfortunately, we didn't get it. But, as I said, it was a terribly exciting game. They dropped a few catches and brought us back into the match. When you look back you feel that if they had held those catches, we wouldn't have a chance. So a lot needs to be said. But, all said and done, it was certainly an exciting game.
Your consistently brilliant performance in that World Cup triggered off great expectations. Did you always carry the weight of those expectations in your subsequent career?
Yes, I think so. It was very hard to always live up to those huge expectations. But it was also heartening to know that people were confident about my ability. I set the standards in 1998-1999 and it was important for the rest of us to live up to those standards and expectations.
How did you manage to maintain those standards and dealt with those expectations?
By having full confidence in my ability and keeping a level head. And I was always very positive in my approach to cricket. I think these things are very important when it comes to dealing with pressure on a cricket field.
You played under Hansie Cronje and also gave your best during his tenure at the helm. How did you rate him? How was your rapport with him?
I think it was very good. He was a tremendous captain, someone we all looked up to. And he was a very, very good player, too. I really enjoyed playing with and under him. It was unfortunate he wasn't able to carry on much longer.
What about Shaun Pollock and others?
Obviously,they were different kinds of captains. Shaun Pollock was an excellent captain in his own right. He did a very good job while he had the opportunity to lead the side. Graeme Smith? I don't know. I've no idea. But the South African team seems to be playing good cricket under him now. So he must be doing a fine job.
Weren't you one of the first players Graeme Smith targetted after he was appointed captain?
He probably felt threatened by me. So he thought it best to get rid of me.
Why do you think he felt threatened by you?
I don't know. I'm just guessing as probably you.