Heinrich Klaasen - the archetypal spin hitter
It’s been the year of Heinrich Klaasen. Every time he has come in with the willow, Klaasen has only been at his destructive best, irrespective of the format and the opposition. He has faced the best of the bowlers and taken them down with enormous ease.
Klaasen has never looked out of touch this year, and the scary part for the opponent teams is that he is getting better and better with each game. The ongoing ODI series against Australia has only reinforced this case further. When Klaasen arrived at 120/3 in 25.1 overs, Australia barely knew what was going to hit them.
But Klaasen did give an early indication when he crunched a shorter-length delivery through deep point region for a boundary. For the following 80 balls, it was Klaasen and his theurgy bat doing everything, with the Australians watching it unfold helplessly. The bowlers tried everything they could, but Klaasen was hardly troubled.
The 32-year-old went on to score 174 runs off just 83 balls, with the help of 13 boundaries and as many maximums. Once Klaasen got going, there was no respite. With David Miller also motoring along from the other end, all Australian players could do was pray for the innings to get over soon.
Amidst the carnage, Klaasen’s way of countering Adam Zampa was the highlight of the day. Klaasen plundered 50 runs off just 17 balls at a strike rate of 294.11, hitting as many as six maximums off Zampa. Adam Zampa leaked 113 runs - the joint-most in an ODI innings.
Now that’s his strength and most prominent positive - his robust technique against the spinners. Since Klaasen peaked, his superior skillsets to counter slow bowlers have been consistently talked about.
Klaasen has a wide range against the spinners, probably in the top five batters, and his foot movement is precise. His power on both feet makes everything easy for him further.
Klaasen moves off the back foot to hammer anything even slightly shorter to force the spinners to bowl fuller lengths. His immaculate weight transfer helps him generate as much force even while being on the back foot. Klaasen plays them very late to notice every detail, as was also visible in this IPL season.
And, then, he is ready on the front foot as well to power them for the boundary. After taking a beating on the shorter stuff, the bowler naturally adjusts his lengths and tries to bring him forward. But Klaasen knows it and is ready to use his feet or stand still to muscle down the ground. Not to talk about his bat speed; that’s quicker than light.
While facing spin, Klaasen’s ability to read the lengths quickly enables him to adjust his movement swiftly and generate ample intensity in the shots. He barely gets struck in the crease for this very reason. He seems to have two strokes for every delivery, and he can choose his area to target even before the ball is released.
Klaasen doesn’t do fancy stuff, as most of the non-subcontinent batters do, and his shots are very conventional against the tweakers. He is ready for everything and never preplans his shot type. His length-reading expertise and brute power help him to be flexible for anything.
It is one of the reasons why Klaasen could thrash Zampa in Centurion. Zampa keeps his line of attack on the stumps and waits for the batters to sweep him. But Klaasen doesn’t do that. He rather keeps a stable base and tries being as still as possible while going through his shots. That helps him to unlock all the areas of the ground and smash according to the line of the ball. All the six maximums off Zampa came in front of the square.
Klaasen is never in two minds while shot selection and completes the strokes every time. His power also helps him go with the stroke even if he mistakenly chooses the wrong one, which is very rare anyway. Despite having a plethora of shots in his armour, Klaasen picks the right one for each ball amazingly well.
It’s impossible to cramp him either because of that sheer power. Once he gets going, Klaasen makes the spinners bowl where he wants them to. He has done it nonchalantly against the best in the business.
In the ODIs this year, Klaasen has 205 runs at a marvellous strike rate of 172.26 and a balls-per-boundary ratio of 4.10 against the spinners. His strike rate is the highest among all the batters to face at least 50 balls against the slow bowlers. The batters generally don’t have such a high scoring rate in the T20s.
The Proteas middle order is hyped up like anything going into the World Cup, and rightly so. They already had Rassie van der Dussen and Aiden Markram to counter spin, and this rise of Heinrich Klaasen makes them a force to reckon with. In fact, Klaasen is a better boundary hitter than any other Proteas batter in the World Cup squad.
While his spin game is top-notch, Klaasen is equally adept against the pacers. Among all the batters to have faced a minimum of 100 deliveries, Klaasen’s strike rate of 146.29 is the third-best in the ODIs this year. He takes around 5.02 balls for every boundary.
On Friday, Klaasen showed he is among the cleanest hitters of the ball against both pacers and spinners. Despite belting from the first ball, Klaasen maintained a control of 87% during this mammoth knock.
Klaasen could always play such knocks consistently, as he showed during his initial years. Things did go downhill after the initial burst, but he kept working on his skills. As Klaasen hits the second peak now, he is making the most of it and how.
“It's a special day, but to be honest, I don't remember a lot of the innings. Will have to go back and watch,” exclaimed Klaasen after earning the Man of the Match award.
Klaasen can’t be blamed, either. It’s literally impossible to remember everything after doing so much in an innings. But, for those who followed live, it is an unforgettable knock by one of the best batters in world cricket.