Heinrich Klaasen. (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)
At the Oval in Kimberley
- Heinrich Klaasen has sternly stated that the Proteas can only drive home their aggressive brand of cricket if team management and the selectors back players in a balanced manner.
- The 31-year-old stroke-maker believes selection policy has been so haphazard at times previously that it erodes players’ fire to perform consistently.
- Skipper Temba Bavuma says he wants to help create an environment where players are “given enough rope” to perform, but warns selection security is a luxury in international sport.
If the Proteas are going to drive home their renewed intention of batting aggressively under the guidance of new white-ball coach Rob Walter, team management and the selectors will need to play ball in terms of backing those batters.
Heinrich Klaasen, South Africa’s hero with the willow in Wednesday night’s defeat to England in the third ODI, issued this eyebrow-raising view because it’s one of the reasons why the national team haven’t batted consistently in the 50-over format over the past few years.
The Proteas’ notable 2-1 series triumph over the World Cup champions featured some thrilling stroke-play by the whole batting order, with at least one different player taking it upon himself to make a substantial score.
Yet is it an encouraging trend that can continue?
“That’s where it becomes tricky. Not everyone will be consistent all the time. That’s why, when it’s your day, you have to take the team over the line,” said Klaasen, whose 80 off 62 deliveries thrillingly kept the Proteas in the picture on Wednesday night.
“That’s also where players and coaches need to keep buying into the plan. Hopefully we’ll get backed. If we want to keep playing in this manner, the consistency will be up and down. Some days it will look very bad and other days it will work out great.
“That’s the big challenge for management and the selectors if they want us to play this way.
“For the batters, it’s just about believing and riding the wave when you’re in-form. We’re all natural stroke-makers, so it’s not the brand of cricket that’s the issue. It’s about what’s going on in the head. Will you be dropped? Will you keep you’re position if you fail?”
That aforementioned uncertainty is what came close to extinguishing Klaasen’s fire for the international game before he came to the realisation that if he simply accepted that uncertainty would keep hovering over him, he’d be better off mentally.
As it turned out, it’s made him a better player, even if it reflects questionably on selectors.
“I brought it up in one of our recent team meetings. The aim to play aggressive cricket is not new, it was there in 2018 already. When things didn’t come off for me in two games, I was dropped, back to seventh in the queue basically,” he said
“It was tough for me to come back and play that positive type of cricket. I reached a stage where I just gave up and told myself this will probably be my last chance, but I’ll go out the way I want to go out.
“Since then I’ve been playing good cricket. I take every series like it’s my last. It seems to have freed me up to play the game I like to play.”
In fact, the 31-year-old even intimated that previous regimes have been lacking in support, even if he’s learnt to cope.
“I’m not worried about getting dropped anymore. I’ve learned from my experience that if I averaged 4, I get dropped… if I average 60, I get dropped. And vice versa. If they want you in the team, they’ll have you in it… if they don’t, you won’t be there.
“When I made that mental switch, I became more consistent.”
It’s a dynamic Proteas skipper Temba Bavuma is all too aware of.
Yet while he’s made it a priority in this new chapter to address it pragmatically, he rightly noted it shouldn’t breed complacency.
“International sport is ruthless. If you’re looking for the security that someone will back you when you fail [then international sport is perhaps not an appropriate space for you], I’ve certainly never felt that way,” said Bavuma.
“What I do know is that within our team, if you’re playing a certain way, the guys around you are going to give you the amount of rope you deserve. As captain, that’s definitely something I’m looking at. Rob will definitely too.
“In general though, I don’t think it’s reasonable for us as players to be looking for comfort. International cricket is not like that.
“As much as we want to play a certain way, the responsibility is on you, as the player, to execute.”