New chapter in Zulu book

Last Updated 27 September 2014, 20:35 IST

Unseasonal September rains had left the KSCA B grounds a marshland, depriving Dolphins of a valuable training session mid last week.

 Steady drizzle and hovering dark clouds might have conveyed to them the futility of even thinking about a hit at the nets. But the cheerful feeling among the players didn’t reflect the disappointment of elements aborting their practice or two successive defeats against Perth Scorchers and Chennai Super Kings in the Champions League T20.  

They hung around the National Cricket Academy premises, engaging in casual chat or sipping a cup of hot English Breakfast. Amidst all that merriment, there was one serious face, a familiar one to those who followed cricket in the mid and late 90s. 

“This is how I want my team to be, always positive irrespective of the situation,” Lance Klusener tells Deccan Herald, while keeping a close look on his wards.
 ‘Zulu’ is 43 and the grey strands on his head has begun to outnumber the black ones, but the clarity of thought that made Klusener an outstanding cricketer has not aged. His ideas still remain original. Any other coach would have pushed his team for a session at indoor nets, readily available at the NCA. But Klusener is different.

“Sometimes staying away from training will have a better effect on the team than having a full-fledged net session. The ability to gauge the mood of the team is very important for a coach. My philosophy as coach is very clear. Cricket is a simple game and let’s keep it simple,” says Klusener.

There were not many believers in Klusener when he was appointed as Dolphins coach in 2012. There were even secret chuckles when he made public his desire to help Dolphins win a South African domestic cricket title. However, disdain and disbelief met a natural death when Dolphins won the T20 title last season and earned a CLT20 berth.      
 The triumph came after eight long and barren years. The victory was sweeter because Dolphins had lost its finest cricketer – Hashim Amla to Cobras. But Klusener doesn’t have any fancy for big names. “I always stress on team work. Besides David Miller, who now plays for Kings XI Punjab, and Kyle Abbot we don’t have any big names. But we are not concerned about the lack of big players. I try to ensure 100 per cent team effort and a good team environment.

“Dolphins is a team of youngsters. It is easy to get your ideas across youngsters because they have receptive minds. It is the duty of the coach to set the way for a youngster, making him aware of the best possible ways to realise his dreams. For that, a coach needs to be straightforward and clear,” he says.

A man of immense mental strength and clear mind, Klusener too was haunted by instability, particularly after limping out of international cricket in early 2000s. There were a few modest attempts to revive his career like playing league cricket in Zimbabwe and in the now-defunct Indian Cricket League.

Klusener remembers the role of Shaun Pollock, his one-time teammate and close friend, in giving direction to a career that was going nowhere.

“I wasn’t thinking seriously about coaching, even when I was with the Dolphins under Graham Ford. I wasn’t clear on what I needed. I was just hoping to help some youngsters who were aged 18, 19, 20, to successfully cross over to the senior side. But once Ford left for Sri Lanka job mid-season, I was made a coach by default.

“Then Shaun, a very good friend and a very wise man, had a chat with me. He encouraged me: ‘hey Lance, why don’t you give coaching a shot.’ He was a mentor at that time for the IPL side Mumbai Indians. He got me involved with Mumbai for two seasons. It was enjoyable and I really sort of began to like being a coach then. Then there was also Jonty (Rhodes) in the Mumbai set up, and the presence of those two made it a bit easier for me to understand more about myself,” says Klusener.

Friendship is a great part of Klusener’s life and cherishes his camaraderie with former Indian skipper Mohammad Azharuddin. Klusener has only high respect for Azharuddin the individual and Azharuddin the batsman.

“On his day, Azhar was one of the best batsmen and against me he was having some extra good days. But over the years we have become good friends. We sit together for a good talk whenever I come to India. As cricketers, too we were similar. I was looking for wickets all the time and Azhar was in constant search for runs. He was standing a bit side-on to me at the crease, and that I guess helped him to counter my inswingers and the cutters that I used to bowl after my pace dropped after an injury,” says Klusener.

Klusener also shares a special bond with India, where he launched his Test career with an eight-wicket haul (8-64) at Kolkata in 1996. “It was very satisfying to come here and take eight wickets. India is a tough place for a fast bowler to come and bowl. But it is a myth that fast bowlers can’t succeed in India. If you understand the conditions and the length to bowl here then the rewards will come your way.” 

For one fleeting moment, Klusener seemed to be turning into a shrewd, success-hungry cricketer. But a call from the team manager shook him out of the reverie. “Hopefully, we will get some sunny days,” Klusener remarks as he boards the team bus. Perhaps, he was taking the first step to find the contentment, which as a player evaded him narrowly, as a coach. 

(Published 27 September 2014, 20:30 IST)

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