Back when you started it, the world hadn’t really seen a destructive finisher. Then you came along.
I think you kind of carve your own niche. That’s just what evolved and it just happened quite nicely because you had support around you. There was (Shaun) Pollock, (Mark) Boucher and (Pat) Symcox batting below you to get you across the line and help you. I suppose there was just a little bit less pressure and more freedom, maybe like when we see AB de Villiers play in the IPL, he’s got excellent support around him and he can play that free-flowing type of cricket. But when he comes home to South Africa, that lower order is not really existent, so he does probably feel a lot more pressure.
You also seemed to enjoy the role thoroughly, despite the pressures that came with it.
It is about enjoying that role and the fact that you’re going to have to finish the game, maybe to win or set a total. For me, that’s why I got out of bed in the morning to do that. I wanted to be there at the end. Not everybody wants to do that. Some people are reluctant to do that. I used to hope that we needed 40 runs to get off 25 balls with eight down because I knew there was a good chance I could do that. I used to get my thrills from that. We all know that if you can get the mental battle right, then you’re halfway there. I used to get my kicks from that.
How did it start though? Was there an epiphany or one game when you realized it?
I was coming back from injury and went to New Zealand. I managed to get the team over the line in Napier off the last ball. Dion Nash was bowling and the penny dropped. This is what I enjoy doing. If we were in a situation like that again, I would like to be there. So it kind of went from there. Nice thing was I had a whole six months of preparation. I couldn’t bowl as I was injured. The only thing I could do was hit balls. I used to like to hit a lot of balls. I hit 1000s of balls in bowling machines. For every 100 you hit indoors in the bowling machine, you’re going to get one in a game. People don’t see that, they think ‘ah you’re just talented and that’s what you can do.’ I wanted to make sure that when I see that delivery in the middle, I am attacking it with the confidence that I did it 500 times yesterday.
How much did scoreboard pressure work on you?
That was important for me. Knowing the state of the game, and planning from there. Maybe you can just get 5 or 6 off (Shane) Warne but maybe of (Michael ) Bevan or somebody you could 11 or 12. That’s how you kind of work it out. There’s always a weak-link in there somewhere. The big thing for me is to be two overs ahead and knowing that someone needs to bowl to a short side or whatever that is, that’s the smart stuff. It’s not just about thinking ‘gee I need to get something done in five overs.’
MS Dhoni always talks about taking it to the last over when it’s you and the bowler in a straight on confrontation.
Especially if your team is out of it for some time in a game, then it’s just about transferring that pressure. Then suddenly the bowling team who’s been dominating for most of the game, now they have to defend 15 off the last. It’s anybody’s game. MS is spot on there. If you can just hang in, hang in, the guy who has to bowl the last over, he’s actually thinking, jeepers, hope I don’t have to bowl. Now he’s suddenly got to bowl.
More often than not, it’s the batter who’s got half a chance.
Did you sense the pressure Damien Fleming was in that last over of that infamous World Cup semi-final at Edgbaston?
Yes. I think so. It was a game that they were winning reasonably easily for a long time. I don’t think Fleming was standing at fine-leg thinking five overs ago that he would actually bowl the last over. As good as a death bowler he was, if he got it wrong, it needed to be scored off. We could have waited for another ball and got another half-volley and hit it for six. It could have been three brilliant yorkers and people would have gone why didn’t you go earlier. I mean that’s just hindsight.
Were you someone who picked your spots before the ball was bowled, like wherever this ball is bowled I am going for it.
I think to an extent. As good as the bowling was in those days, people just bowled yorkers. They didn’t really bowl slower balls and slower ball bouncers. So was it easier? I don’t know. I still think six good yorkers is golden even in today’s game. But I think there was less variation. So there were one of two things that was going to happen. They were either going to hit their length or miss their length. If they missed their length, I had to be in a position where I couldn’t miss. And if they did get it right then we needed to at least get one. You rarely got a bouncer in the death. Now you can get anything. So it’s a little more of a guessing game now. In the early 2000s, it was a yorker. It was just a case of whether they were going to get it right or not. You’re running in knowing that if I get this wrong, there’s going to be hell to pay.
Could you sense the intimidation in the bowler when you were there in the last overs?
Definitely. You knew they are under pressure now. And that’s why you get out of bed in the morning. To be able to do that. More often than not it’s you who are under pressure as a batsman for a long time. If you can just transfer that to the bowler then it’s a different game. You can see it. Suddenly there’s bowlers’ meetings and captain’s meetings. No-one wants to bowl. And you know that you are actually winning the game without doing too much.
How did it change for you from defining your own role to then having the team expecting you to finish games?
I mean it does come with its own troubles. You do need to deal with the fact that when you walk in, people want to see you hit the first ball for six. Or you suddenly get out, and people are disappointed. It’s just about making peace with that. You can get out for nothing or the bowlers can bowl a good spell and win. I tried not to leave preparation to chance. I always say, when I walk over the boundary line, I am expecting to do well. I am not hoping to do well. The way I could manage that was preparation. If I was well-prepared, it’s easier to expect to do well. But if you
are going in not sure about your preparation, then you are just hoping to do well.
But it must have been tough dealing with those expectations.
It’s tough to make a living finishing off games. The only reason I was batting is because the batters hadn’t done their job. There will be dips in form. You don’t make runs for three games and they start saying you have lost it or your eyes have gone or people have worked you out or whatever.
Was there a time when you thought you had to add another dimension?
Certainly from a batting point of view, you do go through games where you don’t get runs or you don’t bat or you don’t have a hit for a week and the batters’ do their job. And suddenly you are expected to score 15-20 runs in the last over. And then you don’t and people are upset. I think that’s something where people have failed to understand David Miller. Yes he’s a superb finisher. But batters can’t leave him in a position where he needs to walk to the wicket and score at 12-an-over in India. Because that’s freaking tough. We are also human. We also need time to get time to get in, plan our innings, even if a couple of balls, and something reasonable to chase. A guy like David, he’s lost his place now, but he would walk to the wicket when South Africa had left him 15-an-over to get off 7-8 overs. Not many people can do that. Then people say he’s out of form. He can’t do it.
David Miller had expressed the intent to bat higher up the order before the World T20. Is it something you wanted to do as well at times to break away from that pressure?
I opened the batting in Australia with Gary Kirsten. I batted 3. But we eventually worked it out that it doesn’t matter from how many ever wickets there were, I would bat from the 35th over. So that might be something. MS does it well. It’s nice to be captain. You see all his innings. Up to where he can, his first 10 runs or so will be of 15-16 balls, getting in. Then catch up at the end. Maybe that was the trick. They are either score or get out. But if they don’t get out, they will win the match for us. In T20s, lets’ get them in after the 8th over. If they get out, they wouldn’t have wasted balls. It’s similar in 50-over cricket. After the 35th over, send them, doesn’t matter if you have lost only one wicket. Rather than sending them in the last over and saying you’re a finisher so, ‘Good luck’.
When you speak generally to people about the Lance Klusener career, they talk about that phase in the last 1990s when he was unstoppable, and then how you got found out. How do you look at it?
Yes, to a degree. I think I lost a bit of form anyway. I can guarantee you we wouldn’t be sitting here if my good form wasn’t over a period it was. Bad form comes at different times. For a guy like Jacques Kallis, it came early in his career. Sixteen Tests in almost two years. Everybody goes through a dip, where people say, “He should retire.” But people sit on the other side of the ropes for a reason, with respect you know.
Everybody is an expert in their own lounge. It’s tough to know that every time you fail you are scrutinized and there’s always an excuse why. To be honest, I don’t think bowlers found me out. It was just that I probably got a little lazy in terms of my preparation. Got a bit naïve that maybe I can take the foot off the accelerator. I have hit enough balls two years ago, that will still stand me in good stead. I did rediscover myself in County cricket. But it would have been nicer to have realized that earlier. And not just kind of rested on your laurels or reputation.
Your slump did coincide with the Hansie Cronje match-fixing affair. How much of an effect did it have on you?
We did have a good relation, an excellent relation. And something like that to happen is a big thing. But the excuse is more a personal thing. I think it was made out to be a lot worse than it actually was. But at the same time, I’m not saying it’s right. But whether it was handled well is questionable. It was put on national television. Probably looking back, we have seen worse things in terms of match-fixing since then. None of those hearings have been so public. But it did have an impact on a lot of people.
Did you get a chance to meet him after that?
We did. He wasn’t happy about what he did, and we were all upset. Everyone has their weakness, maybe his was money. But that’s life. The thing is we all make mistakes. The problem with our mistakes is that it’s on national television. Can you imagine your mistakes being watched by people like they’re Big Brother? Those are the responsibilities that come with it. You need to be vigilant. Education about those things back then was non-existent. You heard about match-fixing, that it happened somewhere there and some time ago. Now players are so well educated about that if that happened in today’s environment, the outcome I promise you would have been very different. People report that stuff now.
That’s properly investigated. Those days it was, “Don’t do match-fixing” but no-one ever came and said this is how they do it.