After perhaps a shock defeat to Zimbabwe in the first Abu Dhabi test, Afghanistan have roared back to win the second to levels that series and then take an unassailable two-match lead in the three match T20s.
Their coach, former South Africa all-rounder Lance Klusener, never played a T20 International, but cricket fans who had the opportunity to watch him would vouch for the fact that he could certainly have been successful in the game’s shortest format.
Klusener, nicknamed Zulu, based on his fluency in the Southern Bantu language, won several matches for South Africa with his aggressive lower-order batting and medium fast bowling, although that tied semi-final between Australia and South Africa in the 1999 World Cup hangs like a millstone around his neck.
The “choker” epithet that has dogged South Africa for years, probably began that day as Klusener was involved in two run-outs, despite himself having thrashed 31 of 16 and finishing not out. Alas the image of a stranded and bat-less Allan Donald remains etched in the memory.
In a recent interview with Malayala Manorama, the Kerala news outlet, Klusener recalled that incident and, musing on T20 cricket, even likened himself to M.S. Dhoni.
“Unfortunately, the semi -final ended in a tie with Australia advancing to the final by virtue of a superior net run rate. Even if we had won and entered the final, I’m not sure we could have won the title. Pakistan was a great team,” he said.
The South African feels that not joining the IPL when the Mumbai Indians came calling three years ago was a disappointment that ranked second only to that 1999 World Cup.
“They had invited me to become part of their coaching staff” he said, “but I was not in a position to accept the offer”.
Klusener himself had a distinctive baseball-style backlift, and discussing short-format innovations in strokemaking, he was defensive of the more classical art. “The reverse scoop and switch hit have become common shots in white ball cricket,” He said. “But I think if every batsman starts trying these shots, it can be ugly. The games beauty lies in textbook shots like drives and sweeps”.
As a purist, it is no surprise that he is adamant that Test cricket is not losing its charm to the wham – bam shorter formats.
“Definitely not,” he said. “Test cricket will remain the pinnacle and the purest form of the game. Of course, T20 leagues are very popular, but the traditional format is still the real test of a cricketer’s skill.”
None the less, when asked to rate M S Dhoni and Virat Kohli, Klusener was quick to see a similarity between himself and the great wicketkeeper-batsman.
“They are true legends of the game. I love watching them win matches for their sides. Dhoni perfected the art of taking the game deep and finishing it off in the company of tailenders. When I look at him, I see myself!
“Players like Kohli play an anchor role battling through most of the innings. Like me, Dhoni is an aggressive batsman who looks to dominate the bowlers right from the word go and accelerate the scoring rate. Compared to Kholi, our job was easier. Batting at the top order and stitching the innings together against quality bowling is tough. That’s why I think Kohli belongs to a different class”
Contrary to his reputation as an unrefined slogger, set in stone at the 1999 World Cup, Klusener was one of the most skilful players in the game, which made him one of the most adaptable. The Afghanistan coach, who served Notts, Middlesex and notably Northants in his career, seems to be thriving as leader of the Afghans but does his own comparison with Dhoni hold water? It doesn’t do too badly.
Whilst MS certainly more than shades it, averaging 50.58 from 297 innings compared with Klusener’s of 41.30 from 137 innings, there isn’t too much to choose between their strike rates – in fact the South African’s is two above Dhoni at around 89. Virat Kohli, for the record, has an ODI strike rate of 93.25 and shares M.S. Dhoni’s top score of 183