Zulu prepares to greet old friends

The more people tell you there is no ‘issue’ surrounding the return of Lance Klusener to the international scene, the more you can rest assured there is.

The world is full of people who have successfully sued their bosses for wrongful dismissal, but how many of them stroll back to work and find their old desk just as they left it, complete with a vase of fresh flowers from their grudge-free managing director?

The truth is this: Lance Klusener and his lawyers took the United Cricket Board to court and would have successfully sued them for wrongful dismissal if the Board hadn’t sought an out of court settlement. All in all it cost the Board around a million bucks.

The case hinged on an off-the-cuff remark by selection convenor Omar Henry who said that Klusener had been “rested” rather than dropped. Henry and the rest of his colleagues on the cricket side of the game’s administration have no training in labour law but that was no consolation to anyone.

So the Board paid up and Henry knows it was his mistake that cost them. Then Henry watched Andrew Hall slip a disk during the fourth Test and found himself backed into a corner – pick the man who sued you, and has still to express the slightest regret at the damage the whole episode may have caused to the well being of SA Cricket and to the morale of the team. And there is no ‘issue’?

Graeme Smith made a similarly innocent mistake in the weeks after Klusener’s omission when he believed a business breakfast represented a private forum in which he could tell the truth to a couple of hundred paying guests without the rest of the world hearing about it.

So he admitted that Klusener could be “a bit of a disruptive influence.” And now there is no ‘issue’?

Smith and Klusener had there first face-to-face meeting over a month ago when a Rest of SA XI played Western Province in a charity match at Newlands. Smith apologised for causing discomfort and Klusener accepted.

At best it was civil – most would have described the atmosphere as superficial. A few days later Klusener was quoted in Sports Illustrated saying he had nothing to apologise for and wasn’t going to change anything.

And that’s where Klusener finds himself now, recalled to a team that has been stripped of every last vestige of pretension or superiority, two frailties from which he was frequently accused of suffering.

Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Shaun Pollock were Klusener’s best friends in the team through the last seven years but all three have moved on, far away from where they used to be as people. Whether Klusener likes it (or him) or not, Smith has profoundly influenced the team’s outlook on cricket and life.

Everyone hopes Klusener takes wickets and scores runs, but even then he faces the prospect of a lonely dressing room in which people no longer laugh at misfortune, curse the media or moan about performing a task they’d prefer not to perform. Surely that wouldn’t be much fun?

So forget Omar Henry, forget the Board and forget Smith and his team. Forget how they might feel when the one-day squad gathers because their feelings don’t matter for the moment. They are, by and large, united behind a new era in South African cricket. It’s Klusener everyone should care about.

If Zulu really isn’t going to change anything he’s going to find himself more isolated than ever, and cricket is a lonely enough existence without wishing that on anyone.


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