Specialising in scripting victories

Lance Klusener batted South Africa to quite a few wins during the 1999 World Cup.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

The finisher stands up for the team when it really needs his services to win a match. He would arrive in a difficult moment and respond to the situation by enacting an improbable chase. By Priyansh.

It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the term ‘finisher’ entered our discussions on limited-overs cricket. After all, there were only a few international batsmen who had earned the tag by that time. The likes of Javed Miandad, Arjuna Ranatunga and Saleem Malik had directed their sides’ successful pursuit of the opposition’s score in ODI cricket, but none of them solely performed the role of a finisher.

It was only after the arrival of Michael Bevan that his unique gifts embodied the idea. The finisher stands up for the team when it really needs his services to win a match. He would arrive in a difficult moment and respond to the situation by enacting an improbable chase. Bevan’s gifts were well-suited to this challenge.

“I am not really sure but I know that, as a person, I am quite reliable and dependable. So I felt it was my duty to be there at the end. I think the other reason was that my strategy was pretty good. I timed and paced chasing runs correctly. It gave me a chance to be there till the end,” Bevan told the Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Star, long after he had hung his bat up on the wall.

By the time the 1999 World Cup arrived, the Australian left-hander had built up a reputation for rescuing his team from precarious positions. By any reasonable standard, Bevan put on a good display in a victorious campaign for Australia. The southpaw, batting at number six throughout the tournament, finished with 264 runs at an average of 52.80 and two fifties.

Obviously, Bevan was nearly 200 runs behind the competition’s top-scorer Rahul Dravid, but he didn’t bat higher up the order. Yet, the 1999 edition is remembered as Lance Klusener’s World Cup. The South African finished as the Player-of-the-Tournament; his batting average of 140.50 was the highest. Moreover, Klusener was the only batsmen in the top 15 to finish with a strike rate of over 100. Compare this with Bevan’s strike rate of 67.51.

Sadly for him, it wasn’t enough for the Proteas to win the World Cup as it exited the tournament after an iconic semifinal tie with Australia. Yet, Klusener’s batting exploits are worth reminiscing even today. The all-rounder’s favourite knock in that World Cup came against Pakistan.

Chasing 221, the Proteas had slipped to 135 for six in 36.1 overs when Klusener arrived to bat. Eventually, the Proteas won by three wickets with an over to spare. Klusener had hit 46 off 41 deliveries, three fours and sixes each. While his other knocks in the tournament were characterised by the intensity of their attack, this one was different.

“I enjoyed it because I was able to bide my time and plan an innings. It was nice because we had to catch up with the scoring rate and Mark Boucher and I were able to do that. Shoaib (Akhtar) and Wasim (Akram) and Saqlain (Mushtaq) were bowling well, so it was a real battle, not just a smash and grab,” Klusener told Cricinfo during the 2011 World Cup.

It was a time when Klusener could do little wrong. Looking back to the 1999 edition, Klusener added, “It was a lot of luck actually, and some of it was circumstance. I was hitting the ball really well.”

Interestingly, there’s not a single knock by Bevan in that tournament which saved Australia from the clutches of defeat. For an innings worthy of his reputation, we have to travel four years forward. Playing arch-rival England in Port Elizabeth, Australia was 48 for four in its pursuit of 205 when Bevan came to the crease. It was only the ninth over. Later, despite the champion finisher’s presence, Australia found itself tottering at 135 for eight with 74 deliveries to go.

In the able company of Andy Bichel, however, Bevan struck an unbeaten 74 to win the match for Australia in the final over. In the same tournament, unfortunately, Klusener got involved in another tie as he could score only one off eight deliveries against Sri Lanka. As South Africa had misinterpreted the Duckworth-Lewis sheet, it failed to get the win it needed and exited in the group stage.

Moving beyond the two, there has been only one World Cup that was dominated by a finisher. Yuvraj Singh saw India home in no less than four matches in the previous edition. He was deservedly named the Player-of-the-Tournament; his most memorable knock arrived against Australia in the quarters when he guided India through from a tight spot. In fact, on the six occasions Yuvraj has batted and India has chased a target down in the World Cup, the left-hander has struck five fifties.

While there are no other instances of a tournament dominated by a finisher, the World Cup has seen matches decided by batsmen who were reliable in a chase generally.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s exploits in the previous World Cup final comes to mind instantly, while Inzamam-ul-Haq announced his arrival against New Zealand in the 1992 semifinal clash.

Aravinda de Silva won Sri Lanka many matches over the years but none more important than the 1996 final in which he struck a hundred to best Australia. His teammate Arjuna Ranatunga was an even more efficient finisher and spread his exploits over the 1992 and ’96 tournaments.