Reborn Zulu ready for Windies

Lance Klusener is, quite possibly, the most conscientious and attentive member of the 14-man ICC Champions Trophy squad in England. He is also one of the fittest, keenest and most determined.

This column has not been shy about revealing the dark side of the game and its exponents and when Klusener was infamously described as “difficult” and “disruptive” by the newly appointed Graeme Smith, there seemed no reason to pretend otherwise.

But that is not the point. Klusener’s ‘failings’, if that is what they were, are now a part of history. They certainly are not part of the present, and that is the point.

On the face of it the reasons for the change in behaviour are irrelevant – the most important thing is that Klusener’s professionalism and approachability have made a profound difference to his game and to the atmosphere within the dressing room and within team meetings.

Not that Zulu was ever unpopular, but these days nobody has to tread warily around him for fear there was a mood brewing.

Two days before a knockout match in the second biggest one-day tournament in the game is not the appropriate time for Klusener to share the secrets of his transformation but hundreds of future South African international cricketers could benefit from the lessons Klusener has learnt in the last 12 months.

Whatever has given him his newfound sense of perspective should be bottled and preserved for the sake of future generations – or at least written down and used at the national academy.

On Thursday the squad had a voluntary practice session at Finchley Cricket Club (which is also used as the Middlesex County Cricket Club’s academy and is far better equipped than a normal village club.)

Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini were there, as always – Pollock because he loves to bat and Ntini because he hates the boredom of his hotel room and he’s already spend more time and money shopping for children’s clothes and CDs than he cares to admit.

The ‘outsiders’ of the squad were there, too. Alan Dawson, Robin Peterson and J-P Duminy. And the sixth and final player was Lance Klusener. Which is why I could no longer keep the man’s transformation a secret.

Lance and I spoke several weeks before the tour to Sri Lanka about the criticisms leveled at him in this little corner of the internet (and elsewhere) and he understands why they were written. I, too, gained an understanding of why he had behaved in the way he had and of how upsetting criticism can be. Neither of us needed to apologise because we both understood, and a silent understanding is worth far more than a clueless apology.

Sometimes we tip a player to succeed at a critical time because we are ruled by sentiment and sometimes because we are guided purely by the form book. And sometimes it’s because we believe in the wheel of fortune turning and Klusener, for example, could slay the ghost of the 1999 World Cup with commanding and powerful performances in the next three games (think positively!)

But I’m tipping Klusener to succeed against the West Indies and the semi final for any of those reasons. I’m tipping him to succeed because I’ve rarely seen anyone reinvent themselves as profoundly as Zulu has in the last year. And I certainly haven’t seen many cricketers more determined to succeed and prepared to work as hard as he is at the moment.

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