Heinrich Klaasen sets a new benchmark for middle-order batters

Klaasen was callous despite being risk-free throughout the innings.
Heinrich Klaasen is a fine batter.?width=963&height=541&resizemode=4
Klaasen is now a complete No. 5 batter in ODIs.

It would really be a cliche if we said that modern-day middle-order batters should be flexible. It just goes without saying. Even though many think it will be dead in no time, the rapidly changing ODI format throws more variations than the shorter version - T20s.

The one-dayers are not only an extended version of T20s, at least for now. This fact, while many choose to ignore it, is reinforced every time a quality middle-order batter puts on a masterclass. There are many dimensions in ODIs and even more for those sandwiched between the top order and tailenders.

No wonder it’s an unenviable job that tends to demand more pliancy than any other spot in any format. So, what makes a player an ideal middle-order batter? Heinrich Klaasen guided us to an answer against England in a sultry Wankhede Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

The general assumption about Klaasen is straightforward - attacking and destructive. That’s how a No. 5 batter should be, right? A casual look at the scorecard would paint a similar picture, for Klaasen belted 109 runs at a 162.69 strike rate in a knock comprising 12 fours and four maximums.

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It was a different, albeit better, Heinrich Klaasen for the non-casuals. In the past year or so, he has played plenty of remarkable knocks that it’s paradoxical to pick one. But his 109 in Mumbai would top for varied reasons.

This innings showed Klaasen’s flip side, which is even more threatening for opponents. Despite being aggressive throughout, he had a method to his aggression. His strike rate never shrunk significantly, and the boundaries also came in intervals, but it was all about his modus operandi.

When Klaasen arrived at the crease, the Proteas were 162/3 in 25.1 overs, eyeing a massive finish. While the track was flat as an expressway, the new batters had to take some deliveries to settle in. Rassie van der Dussen made eight in his first 20 balls, while Reeze Hendricks took as many as 14 balls to open his account.

For Klaasen, it was a daunting task, for he needed to maintain the flow created by Hendricks and preserve his wicket as only David Miller remained a trusted batter. Mind you, Marco Jansen hadn’t done anything to inspire confidence in the tournament before with the willow. Klaasen did precisely that.

He was cautious but ruthless simultaneously. He wasted fewer deliveries by at least nudging around the singles, and his early boundaries came with the least risk involved. Whenever he found a full delivery, Klaasen would cream them along the ground with pinpoint placement. While he played a reverse sweep off Adil Rashid, Klaasen saw the field with a blank area behind the point fielder and made sure to pierce it wide of that fielder well into the space.

Maybe Klaasen is too gifted to take unnecessary risks if the situation doesn’t demand and still be as attacking and destructive. Not everyone can bisect a pull between square leg and midwicket as he did off Mark Wood in the 33rd over. In his first 15 balls, Klaasen raced to 18 with three boundaries with little to no risk involved.

He started like other Proteas batters, involving no risk, but he still scored handsomely. However, he reserved his best mastery for the worst phase of play for South Africa. When Aiden Markram and David Miller departed in the space of ten balls, Klaasen had Marco Jansen left only. He was batting on 40 off 31 balls with around 13 and a half overs left.

Klaasen sensed the team's demand and cut boundaries immediately for the next three and a half overs. The English bowlers, who sprayed their lengths all around, bowled a few boundary balls, but he knew his wicket’s value. He allowed Jansen to take calculative risks, who was trying his best to get going during the initial phase of the innings but barely played any aggressive shot in this timeframe.

When Reece Topley returned for a fresh spell, Klaasen pounced on him immediately. He hit him for two consecutive boundaries involving an aerial drive. This shot depicted Klaasen’s mindset about how he would approach from here on.

When Marco Jansen struggled for boundaries, Heinrich Klaasen took the pressure off him by shifting through higher gears. Topley was the pick of the English bowler, but Klaasen recognised his variations from the hands and bludgeoned his variations with disdain. Mind you, he did all the heavy lifting despite battling scorching heat, which was energy-sapping, as Klaasen himself mentioned after the game.

From 48(39) to 100(61), Klaasen was as destructive as any batter could be despite knowing that his wicket would take away everything with him. Marco Jansen soon joined the bandwagon, but Klaasen navigated the team through that precarious situation in the 37th over. It’s not that he couldn’t continue hitting, for Klaasen has at least two shots for every delivery, but he showed his intellectual side that understands the need of the situation.

Once a left-handed David Miller got out, Adil Rashid returned to end his quota. Klaasen, a certified spin-hitter, had all the rights in the world to go after him. He would have easily added more boundaries and completed his century quicker, but he played him out without even thinking of those short ropes.

Despite scoring at a reasonable pace, he was still cautious. Most batters would pile up dot balls, but Klaasen hardly wasted a delivery even during that mini-collapse. Klaasen was callous despite being risk-free throughout the innings.

England pulled things back and won the fourth phase from 31st to 40th. But Klaasen eyed a larger picture and eventually nailed it. Obviously, his high-class skills helped them, but that is the thing.

For someone as talented as Klaasen, it’s arduous to restrict himself from doing something he is adept at. For that, a batter needs temperament and cricketing genius. And Klaasen showed he has them as well.

This knock also showed Klaasen’s equally freakish against pacers. Obviously, there were no doubts about his hitting abilities, but Klaasen’s supreme expertise against spin sometimes overshadows his power against speedsters. Klaasen was severe to all the lengths in this knock.

Klaasen barely loses his shape despite generating more intensity than many other batters in his shots and strikes them orderly where he wants it to go. He produces almost equal power without trying too much at his crease, even on off-pace deliveries. His bat speed was always lively, but like against spin, Klaasen now judges lengths quickly against pacers.

Klaasen is now a complete No. 5 batter in ODIs. He is consistent and possesses different gear, power and technique against all bowling types, and Klaasen flaunted his batting savvy in this knock to tick all the boxes. He is at a stage where it’s impossible to control him now.

It’s not that Indian conditions are the yardstick for a batter. But Klaasen has raised the bar for everyone by performing here and, importantly, in the World Cup. Heinrich Klaasen set a new benchmark for middle-order batters on Saturday in the City of Dreams.

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