Cricket: World Cup - Klusener the quiet hurricane blows in

`Zulu', South Africa's aggressive all-rounder, is a one-day specialist and world beater. By Adam Szreter
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BOB WOOLMER, the South Africa coach, is said recently to have described Lance Klusener, the 27-year-old Natal all-rounder, as the best one-day cricketer in the world. That may have raised one or two eyebrows, but after only two games in this World Cup it is beginning to look as though Woolmer, once again, might just be spot on.

Klusener is not a man of many words where the media is concerned. In the privacy of the dressing-room he is said to be both humourous and perceptive, and there is as much chance of him speaking in Zulu as Afrikaans or English. But when he picks up his hefty bat or takes the ball to bowl first or second change for South Africa today, the only sound England's players are likely to hear is that of pure, unadulterated aggression.

There are few sights more exciting in world cricket than that of Klusener taking guard. A string of match-winning performances in one-day cricket, combined with his impatient, confrontational stance at the crease, gives him a psychological advantage over most opponents before a ball is bowled. And the worst thing, as far as Messrs Gough and Mullally are concerned, is that only when they have dismissed seven of Klusener's team-mates are they likely to get a real mauling.

His entrance into Test cricket was stunning, taking 8 for 64 against India in Calcutta - the best by a South African on his debut - before making an undefeated century in 100 balls in the return series - the fastest by a South African. But with two other world-class all-rounders in Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock to call on, Klusener is still not an automatic choice for South Africa's Test side. In one-day cricket though, his explosive style is in its element.

Klusener's strike rate so far in this tournament is 134 runs per 100 balls and a wicket, six in all, every 15 balls with his deceptively brisk seamers. On Wednesday at Northampton, with South Africa listing at 115 for 7, he rescued his side with a half-century, taking 22 off the last five balls of the innings to change the complexion of the game before finishing off the job with 3 for 21 when the Sri Lankans batted.

Earlier this year South Africa were 2-1 down to New Zealand before Klusener struck a six off the final ball of the fourth game to level a series South Africa ended up winning; and prior to that, in the Wills Golden Jubilee Tournament in Lahore, he made 99 in the final against Sri Lanka after taking 6 for 39 against the same opponents earlier in the tournament. He has taken five wickets or more in a one-day international four times, an achievement only Curtly Ambrose, Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram have bettered.

Michael Owen Smith has been following South Africa's fortunes for the Cape Times for many years but he has never seen anyone quite like Klusener. "His ability to perform when it's really needed is incredible," he said. "He's mentally very strong, he doesn't seem to have any kind of nervous system at all. He just lives by the philosophy that you either bowl the ball as fast as you can or you hit it as hard as you can." Or put another way, "Go high or go home," Klusener's own motto.

When Klusener does go home it is to Gingindhlovu, the little village on the north Natal coast known to the locals as Double Gin, where he likes to fish and keep well away from the media spotlight. His mastery of their language makes him a very popular figure with the black community in that part of South Africa, and to team-mates and supporters alike he is known simply as "Zulu".

Like Barry Richards, Klusener attended Durban High School where he played only as a batsman but failed to make the first XI. It was during a three- year spell in the army that he took up bowling as well and Graham Ford, the man who will replace Woolmer after the World Cup, was one of the first to spot his potential. "It was mainly his bowling that caught the eye, but his batting has improved a lot since then," Ford said. "I get quite disappointed if people describe him as a slogger. He has a very simple technique, but he's not heaving away. There's a lot of strength in it but there's a lot of timing as well."

"He is very tough mentally, and right from the time that he started playing for Natal, he had this gift of not giving the opposition too much respect. In a way, coming from Country Districts cricket and almost a non-cricketing background helped him. Whoever he played against he didn't really give a damn about their reputation, he just got on and gave it hell."

As far as Klusener's chances of batting higher than No 9 are concerned, and with today's game in mind, Ford added: "We don't really want to make his role too well known to anyone, but I think he'll have a different role from time to time, depending on the opposition."

At Natal Klusener also benefited from the experience of Malcolm Marshall, and he was linked with a move to Marshall's former county, Hampshire, a couple of years ago but the South African cricket board intervened. By next season, though, it is unlikely that anyone would stand in his way should he wish to come to England, and if there is not a queue for his signature yet, there is likely to be a very long one as soon as the World Cup is over.