On the eve of the Pink-Day ODI, Chris Morris spoke about how the occasion for some reason makes South Africa bring it on. Morris was playing only his second ODI at home when he first experienced the atmosphere, and he smacked 62 off 38 to win South Africa a chase of 263 from 210 for 8; Kyle Abbott scored just three runs in a 52-run stand. Morris spoke of how Dwaine Pretorius became a hero in his first Pink-Day experience last year. He called for a new hero this time.
Two weeks ago, this year’s hero was looking for ways to find a ticket to this year’s sold-out match. Heinrich Klaasen, the unassuming, tall wicketkeeper, who under the helmet looks and walks like Martin Guptill, had no inkling he would be playing for South Africa this month. Then Faf du Plessis injured himself and gave him a chance to experience travelling with the team, before an injury to Quinton de Kock gave Klaasen a debut.
Klaasen’s second ODI happened to be the Pink Day, a game South Africa have never lost, a game that they were threatening to lose despite everything going their way: India chose to bat despite a forecast of rain, the weather delivered them a T20-like target after India had almost bowled their fast bowlers out, and the spinners were struggling with the wet ball. And yet, with their talisman AB de Villiers gone with the game in the balance, South Africa were back to square one: shaky middle order against India’s wristspinners.
Klaasen, though, brought a sense of calm with his calculated hitting. His targeting of the short boundary was exemplary even if it meant going against the turn. After he hit Yuzvendra Chahal for one boundary over midwicket, Chahal resorted to bowling wide outside off. The field had sort of given it away, and Klaasen kept shuffling well wide, sometimes even hitting balls that would otherwise have been called wides. On one occasion he made connection with a ball 1.5 metres wide of the off stump, and still managed to drop it over square leg and into the short boundary.
“I can’t describe it but for me that was my only boundary option,” Klaasen said, when asked to explain that shot. “He bowled quite wide and got a lot of turn and bounce. That was my gutsy shot at that moment, and I pulled it off.”
Against Kuldeep Yadav, Klaasen employed the lap and the reverse-sweep to start off with, and then pounced on flatter length. The sweeps are shots he has learnt in a country where they say align your outer eye with the off-stump line and sweep everything that is outside. When their batsmen don’t sweep, the coaches shout from outside, “Sweep the bowler.”
“Not like we didn’t have the confidence [before the game] but just to get the first win has just lifted the spirits in the change room.”
“It comes naturally to me, but I work hard on it,” Klaasen said when asked if the reverse-sweep was a conscious ploy against Kuldeep, whom Klaasen said South Africa had struggled to pick. “Three years ago we went to Sri Lanka on a National Academy trip. There, we learned all types of sweeps. Since then, I’ve brought it back into my game and it works. It takes off a lot of pressure. Especially against good spinners. It’s difficult to hit them down the ground if you don’t use your feet well. So that just changed up their lengths, and it suits me a little bit better.
“It’s an individual thing. I don’t think everyone plays that shot well. A lot of our batters hit straight very well. For me, fortunately enough, I can play all around, but it’s hard work. And it’s not one of the… nicer shots for me to do. It’s for me not a high-risk shot, but I definitely have other plans.”
The win Klaasen’s knock resulted in was desperately needed by South Africa. They were 3-0 down in the six-match series, seemed to have zero confidence when facing India’s spinners, and needed something on the board to tell them they could compete. It was a bit like the newcomer Klaasen looking for one good innings to tell him he belongs. “Talking to our spinning coach, I just said that I wanted to get the first knock out of the way and get settled with the nerves and all those things,” Klaasen said. “It has been a long time coming. Last season as well, just wanted to get that first knock away in four-day cricket, just to settle down a bit at this level. That means a world to me, better than a hundred, better than anything else to play for your country.”
Similarly for South Africa, the win means a lot. “Massive massive confidence booster for us,” Klaasen said. “Not like we didn’t have the confidence [before the game] but just to get the first win has just lifted the spirits in the change room. And the belief in the change room… It’s nice to have AB back again; the environment changed when he is back. He is a huge influence in the change room but to get to the first win on a special occasion like the Pink ODI means a lot to us. Proud to keep the record clean.”
And while he was at it, Klaasen might have done his best to make sure he doesn’t need to go looking for tickets for the next Pink ODI.