We are here to win games, says Lance Klusener ahead of T20I series against India

Ahead of the India-South Africa series, Lance Klusener, who is now the assistant batting coach for South Africa’s T20 unit, feels that this is an opportunity for the youngsters to become heroes.

South Africa's assistant batting coach Lance Klusener talks to skipper Quinton de Kock ahead of the first T20 in Dharamsala.   -  Cricket South Africa

Lance Klusener belongs to a generation when South African cricket team was a star-studded unit. And every time the Proteas would travel to India, the excitement would be palpable - with both the teams raring to go.

But that picture seems to have changed a little over the last few years. With some of the top players calling it quits, the South African team is in a transition phase.

But ahead of another India-South Africa series - which begins on Sunday, with the T20Is - Klusener, who is now the assistant batting coach for South Africa’s T20 unit, feels that this is an opportunity for the youngsters to become heroes.

In an exclusive chat with Sportstar from Dharamsala on Friday, Klusener spoke about his team's preparation for the upcoming T20I series against India. 

Interview

Q) As South Africa begins an important series against India, what are your expectations from the team?

A) We are not here just to compete. We will have to win the series and we need to win every game we play. That’s important. We would like to hit the ground running, that’s something that would be my expectation. That’s pretty much how we are preparing. We are here to win the games and to ensure we take the team forward.

With most of the senior players retired, this is a relatively younger South African team with not too much experience of playing in India, what would they need to tackle Indian conditions?

Everybody in the squad has pretty much played in India. Some have come out of the ‘A’ tours - that’s a good thing. South African teams have been coming to the sub-continent and India for good 20 years now. For me, it’s not about how we are (tackling) the conditions.

At some stage you need to deal with the conditions you know. I would like to believe that we are there. We know the conditions, we know how to play in the conditions. It’s about executing it on the day against a really good team. We have got some fantastic young-skilled players. It can be the start of identifying some future heroes or stars for South Africa.

In your playing days, you have seen transitional phases quite closely. So, what are the areas should this team keep in mind during the transition phase?

Normally, a lot transition is off the field as well. It’s a culture change, doing things differently, taking different challenges. Obviously, on the field, with a new personnel, you might go about - from batting point of view - getting a certain squad in one way, and with different people, you will get it done in a different way.

So, we just need to hit the ground running in terms of how we play. Sure, it is going to be tough but like I said, a national team should not be a finishing school, it should be about achieving as well.

In the World Cup, South Africa came in with a lot of expectations but flattered to deceive. What are the lessons that this team has learned from the World Cup?

I wasn’t there. I was watching the tournament on television. It’s hard to say from an insiders point of view but looking from the outside, I don’t think it was lack of effort. I don’t doubt that at all. What I am hearing is that may be, there could have been a bit more flexibility, which is something we would like to see from a new coach’s point of view.

Whether that flexibility was there in the World Cup, I am not too much sure. So, a difficult question to answer since I wasn’t there.

With seniors like Hashim Amla, Jean Paul Duminy calling it quits, many feel this is a great opportunity for youngsters. What is your advise for them?

Put your hand up! Be the next log in the Protea fire, really! That would be something! That’s really the message because they are good cricketers, they are good people. Jump in and take opportunities with both hands - it’s an old saying but I think, it’s closer to the truth. You have earned your right to be here. Don’t change your game, believe in yourself. There are lot of things you hear but successful ones are those who actually go there and do it!

Taking on an Indian team, which has a formidable batting line up, how challenging will the task be for South Africa? What are the areas that you guys will focus on?

It’s a tough test and it’s not about putting head on the sand. It’s a new team, it has new cultures and you start in India against India - it doesn’t really come tougher than that. But at the same time, it’s an opportunity for us. It is an opportunity for youngsters.

Why not hit the ground running? Why not challenge one of the best teams in the world in their own backyard? So yes, it’s a thing we believe in, but at the end of the day, we need to go there and get that. We are looking forward to it. From a player’s point of view, it’s an wonderful opportunity. From coach’s point of view, it is important that we provide an environment for them to go out and perform their best.

In the shorter format of the game, batting has been an area of concern for South Africa lately. Ahead of a big tour, is there any specific area that the team is working on?

We need to cover all bases. We would like to rotate strike in the middle period a little bit better. That’s something that we will chat about. We have covered most of the bases, but there comes a point where you need to stop talking and the players need to start performing on the field.

South African bowlers Kagiso Rabada and Dwaine Pretorius (background) during a training session at HPCA stadium in Dharamshala.   -  Akhilesh Kumar

That’s something they are well aware of. We can have meetings but executing it on the day will be of concerns for us. There are lot of things to work on, different balances to find in terms of batting orders. But I would like to believe that we would cover most of the bases, before the (first T20I begins) on Sunday.

Enoch Nkwe, in a recent interaction, said that it is time to look at the future. What are your thoughts?

Yeah, absolutely. There is T20 World Cup, 50-over World Cup, Test Championships - that’s the future he is talking about. Young players filling the boots of players that have been there, done that. I have been part of many, many teams where a player retires and you think whether it is ever possible to replace that kind of person.

We always do. (Allan) Donald retired, (Shaun) Pollock was there. Pollock retired, (Dale) Steyn was there. Steyn retires, (Kagiso) Rabada is there. All as good as each other. Yeah, there are lots of opportunities.

Finally, with Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma in great shape, is there any particular plan that South Africa has in store for them?

That would be telling, wouldn’t it? The most important thing is, these guys are all human. They are fantastic cricketers. We have got fantastic cricketers, and that’s been something in my playing days as well - to respect the ability of other players, but the most important thing is to focus on your own abilities.

They (Rohit and Virat) are two good cricketers, yes, but there are nine or ten others, who are also pretty decent. Our focus will be on ourselves. It is nice to know that they have got some fantastic cricketers, we respect that. But at the end of day, the focus is on what we want to do and the talent we have got in our team. That’s our focus really!