The return of the prodigal son

Written by: Sajith Balakrishnan
Published: Thursday, January 29, 2004, 18:24 [IST]
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The first One-day International between the West Indies and South Africa at Cape Town marked the return of South African all-rounder Lance Klusener to international cricket after almost a year in hibernation. His return to the side augurs well for a team that is on the path of revamp. 'Zulu' has been known to be a great fighter, one who quite often rescues the team from the brink of defeat.

As long as Klusener is there at the crease with his bludgeoning willow, the word 'impossible' doesn't exist. Time and again he has won matches single-handedly for the Proteas from positions of nowhere. Nobody can forget his exploits in the '99 edition of the World Cup at Old Blighty where he was voted the Most Valuable Player of the Tournament. However, the next edition, that too at home, saw him falling from the good books of those who mattered in United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA).

Eventhough it was rain and some sloppy calculations that put paid to the hopes of the home side from getting into the second round of the premier tournament, Klusener was made the scapegoat. The World Cup also saw Shaun Pollock losing his captaincy and the newly-appointed captain Graeme Smith (whose biggest qualification was that he belonged to the non-Cronje era), added fuel to the fire by dubbing Klusener as a 'disruptive element'. Subsequently, he was left out of the South African scheme of things that included the twin tours of England and Pakistan.

Zulu fought bitterly with the UCBSA, but in the end brokered an out-of-court settlement that cleared the decks for his return. Eventhough he didn't get an opportunity with the bat, he proved more than useful with his gentle off-cutters that returned him three wickets. In the second match too, he did more with the ball than with the bat. One hopes he does get a stage, sooner or later, to prove his mettle with the willow again.

With an arduous Kiwi tour in the offing, Klusener provides the Proteas plenty of options. Considering the fact that New Zealand's home record is pretty awesome, Klusener's experience will be handy. South Africa, known as 'chokers', badly needs an experienced all-rounder to prop up the inexperienced middle-order that has quite often been exposed in the recent past.

Despite his heroics in the abridged version of the game, Klusener's name is found missing whenever the Test eleven is announced. He had a memorable Test debut at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata along with Herschelle Gibbs, where he scalped eight Indians. Gary Kirsten's twin tons in that Test assured South Africa a victory then. It is unfair to drop a player who has played 48 Tests.

Even if the selectors ignore him for the Test leg in New Zealand, they may be forced to play him when they tour Sri Lanka later this year, as he is a proven player of spin in the subcontinent. He was one of the success stories when the Proteas toured the Emerald Island last time as he countered the guiles of spin wizard Murali with elan.

By returning to the ODIs, Klusener has climbed one ladder and it may not be long before he makes it to the purists' version too. He is too good a player to remain in the oblivion or warm the reserve benches. Flashes of his brilliance with the red cherry were visible at Cape Town and Port Elizabeth as he proved that his nagging off-cutters can still spell doom, despite him being out of action for almost a year. Now it's for the other part of Klusener that all are waiting. A fully-flowing Klusener with the bat whacking the red cherry to all parts of the ground. Bowlers, beware!

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