Afghanistan will be affected if there's no Asia Cup, World T20 this year: Klusener

Afghanistan head coach Lance Klusener is optimistic that his team would bounce back from the hard times that has been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Afghanistan head coach Lance Klusener along with a group of young cricketers in Lucknow.   -  SHAYAN ACHARYA

From a sensational debut in Test cricket, with match-winning figures of 8 for 64 against India in Calcutta in 1996, to heartbreak in the World Cup semifinal in 1999 - Lance Klusener has experienced many ups and downs in his long and illustrious career.

But, the 48-year-old cannot imagine when was the last time he had such a long break from cricket. 

As the world grapples with coronavirus pandemic, there hasn’t been any cricketing activities for nearly three months, and Klusener - who is now the head coach of Afghanistan cricket team - admits that it will take some time for things to get back on track.

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The pandemic has also impacted the finances. With sources of funding drying up fast, Klusener and his colleagues at the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) had to take a 25 per cent salary cut. 

However, he is optimistic that once things ease out, Afghanistan players will be able to bounce back. 

In a chat with Sportstar, the former South African all-rounder opened up on a range of issues.

 

Cricket has been hit hard due to the pandemic. Being the head coach of Afghanistan, how do you see the way forward?

It’s tough to say. If we are not going to have the T20 World Cup or the Asia Cup, then we will have to look for quite a few bilateral series. The team will try and arrange fixtures against oppositions, which weren’t scheduled.

How much of an impact has the lockdown had on the Afghanistan team?

We did not have a lot of fixtures planned. Our biggest thing was the Asia Cup and the T20 World Cup. In terms of that, it has affected us. It has basically cancelled all our fixtures. Now, for example, if there is no Asia Cup or T20 World Cup this year, then it will affect us big time. We need to be proactive in trying to organise bilateral series or other fixtures, which were not scheduled originally. So yeah, in terms of fixtures, it has wiped up our whole year.

Some of the teams have already resumed practice, maintaining the health guidelines. What’s the status with Afghanistan?

We have tried to keep them going, on online platforms, showing them videos of opposition and trying to stimulate their minds. We can’t get on to the field, and there is only so much you can do online, without being interactive. That’s being really limited. We have challenged them physically to keep up in terms of fitness. There have been fitness videos posted online.

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There was Ramadan in between, so it was a challenge for the boys as well. Afghanistan has been hit hard by the virus as well like other countries. It has been a challenge. If we are permitted by the government, we will try and get some camps going in June. However, our focus – from the administration’s point of view – is to try and pick as many fixtures as we can.

How do you plan to go about it?

The boys have been inactive for close to two months, so they will have to slowly get into the swing of things. We have to monitor the bowlers’ workloads, build up fitness levels again, so that will be something how the training camps will look.

And then, in terms of fixtures, everybody is trying to jump in and get involved in the process. Friends, other coaches, other administrators – who you have relations with – could be reached and see whether we can fit in a few fixtures.

The pandemic has also had an impact on the finances. Your thoughts?

It’s extremely difficult. You mentioned about finances, we all had to take pay cuts, which I guess is the norm these days. We need to be playing games, we need to be selling TV rights to fund our cricket. We really are hoping to bring Afghanistan on TV.

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That’s where comes the support of bigger nations. They should come to the party and host us for a few games, if none of the two big tournaments (Asia Cup and T20 World Cup) take place.

Lance Klusener during a practice session.   -  TWITTER

 

Afghanistan will be playing a lone day-night Test against Australia this year. What are your thoughts?

It will be a big opportunity for players and they will be tested at the highest level. So, that’s a challenge for players, coaches and everybody to make sure that they are prepared. It only being roughly our fourth Test match (fifth), it’s going to be a big, big challenge and a learning opportunity as well. We need to thank Australia for accommodating us.

When the action resumes, there will be a lot of rule changes. What are your thoughts on the ban on the use of saliva for ball shining?

Saliva will make it a little bit of a difference. It won’t be a huge difference. There are various substances which invariably will find their way on to a cricket ball somehow. If we can’t use saliva, then there might be something that we can use like a certain wax product or whatever, which is available to all teams for a limited amount, in each innings.

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That will certainly help and it will certainly be something that will help people stay away from the habit of using saliva to shine the ball. That will also take away having to do anything with the wicket.

With so many changes coming in after the pandemic, do you think it will be a challenge for the coaches as well? How do you plan to address it?

It’s a learning curve all around. There are a lot of habits that just come naturally, like putting saliva on the ball, celebrating with hugs, shaking hands to name a few. So we might just need to wary of that for a while.

Hopefully, down the line, we can find a vaccine or something that can take care of it. But we need to be extremely careful, certainly getting back into the sport. Players have got a lot of learning too and coaches too need to get a little bit innovative. We might need to train in smaller groups. For example, we might need to have groups of batters in the morning - it might make longer days for coaches as well if that’s the way training needs to go.

Everybody is just waiting to get back onto the park in any shape or form they can- even if it means no spectators, or whatever it is. It’s going to be a real shame but we gotta make do with what we are allowed to do at the time.

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But yeah, it’s gonna be different, not just cricket, but all sports are gonna be very different for a certain amount of time, going forward. We can just hope and pray and that the smart people can find us a vaccine or something like it that will take care of it. But it will be different, there will be challenges - for umpires and administrators as well.

Lance Klusener along with his manager Kaustav Lahiri.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

Bio-bubble seems to be the buzzword in cricket at the moment. Do you think in international cricket, where calendars are chock-a-block, it is a sustainable model?

Yes, it will be difficult. There will be quarantines as well. Can we train during quarantine? You know people then returning to their countries, will we have to remain in two-week quarantine before we are released to our families? Yeah, quite difficult and testing times. Some countries can’t travel, some can, some borders are closed.

Just really envisage longer time on the road. With quarantine, you might have a situation where you have three T20 games but you might have to quarantine in that country where you are going to for two weeks, then quarantine when you get back home for another two weeks. That means four weeks of quarantine potentially if that’s the way things go.

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That could be quite testing. No one really knows. So I guess not just the cricketers, the general public are going to accept, embrace the sport and love sport in any way they can. I don’t think there are many people - whether they play sport or watch sport - will take it for granted in the near future.

Let’s talk a bit about South African cricket. The Proteas have been blessed with fast bowling all-rounders over the years. After Clive Rice, Brian McMillan, you and Shaun Pollock carried forward the legacy. Do you think the current squad lacks that?

I think I saw some decent all-rounders. I just speak from a South African point of view - they are there, but the difference is I think - small differences- you’ve got Dwaine Pretorius, Andile Phehlukwayo. The difference is that they are bowling mid 120s, whereas all-rounders such as Shaun Pollock, Jacques Kallis were all bowling mid 140s - that does elevate you certainly from a bowling point of view into a different space.

So, I don’t think there is a lack of quality. I think that on any given day, those are seriously good all-rounders. But the small differences is that 20 kmph in bowling speed, that sets those all-rounders apart.

Do you think Clive Rice would have been as successful and well known as Richard Hadlee, Kapil Dev or Imran Khan if he had a full international career?

I had the privilege of being at the National Academy with Clive Rice as the head coach, so even my batting style - I took quite a bit from Clive. I had the privilege of spending a lot of time with him, playing with him back in Kua Zulu Natal, when he played there as well. So, Clive definitely played a big part in my career.

South African cricketer Clive Rice holds aloft the trophy after winning Silk Cut all-rounder Challenge at Taunton in September 1984.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

 

Unfortunately, I got him towards the very end of his career. But definitely, given the opportunity at the international level, he was a phenomenal all-rounder. His record speaks for itself, in county cricket as well.

Apartheid did rob the world of not just cricketers, many other sportsmen didn’t get that opportunity. But that’s just the way life is. It is important for us who are given that opportunity we make the very best of it.

You are regarded as one of the finest all-rounders of South Africa. But as a youngster, what was your biggest dream?

Growing up in South Africa, dream wasn’t certainly to play cricket for a living. We grew up in the Apartheid era when South Africa was banned and our biggest achievement, I guess, would be playing for our states. Dreams of playing for states, (came after seeing) icons like Graeme Pollock, Clive Rice - we used to idolise them and try and emulate.

For us, growing up in those years, it was more of a dream to be like somebody you had seen in the newspapers. Because we did not have television sets those days. But the dream of playing for the country finally materialised in the early 1990s, when it did become possible. And then I did finally realise that maybe I was good enough to have some sort of career on the cricket field. We dreamed very differently in those days.

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