Former Proteas all-rounder says talented youngster needs more opportunities to prove himself and achieve his dream in the long format
When Proteas all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo recently announced a surprising desire to play 100 tests for South Africa, one could almost hear the cynical among us stifle a giggle.
Contrasted against a growing reputation as a patron saint of lost causes in white ball cricket, the 11 wickets and highest score of nine Phehlukwayo has as mementoes from the four tests he has played – the last of which was two and a half years ago – hint broadly at his talents belonging in the limited formats of the game.
But try telling that to his first franchise coach and former Proteas all-rounder Lance Klusener, who used lack of opportunity and the example of an omnipotent cricketing ginger to mount a case for the defence.
“I think as soon as T20 came along it’s become fashionable to say that, because there are three formats, you can’t play all of them,” Klusener said.
“But Ben Stokes kind of put that to rest because, if you’re good enough, you should play. If you only play ODI cricket or test cricket, it stops you from learning or developing your game. For me, Andile certainly has the talent and a big enough engine to be able to play all forms of cricket easily. There’s no reason he can’t and, given the opportunity, he’s easily good enough.”
As the man who plucked a teenage Phehlukwayo from Glenwood High School in Durban to play for the Dolphins, it is understandable that Klusener – whose explosive left-handed batting, right-handed bowling and swashbuckling playing style are the mirror image of his former protégé – is a touch biased.
But he is unequivocal about why he thinks the 24-year-old hasn’t been entrusted with enough opportunity.
“He only bowls at 125km/h – it’s as simple as that. I hate going back, but if you look at good South African all-rounders in the past, they all bowled at about 135km/h. They were aggressive and could open the bowling ... if they couldn’t bat, they’d probably still be selected for the team because of their bowling.
“For me, that’s the only area in which Andile needs to step up his game,” Klusener said.
“In T20 or ODI cricket, you can get away with bowling ... let’s call it 125km/h or 130km/h, max. In test cricket, you kind of lean towards specialist, and someone who’s bowling at 125km/h doesn’t quite cut it. His challenge is that he needs to find 10 clicks from somewhere – that’s the bottom line.”
Missing clicks aside, Klusener’s underlying message is time in the saddle, something he feels could also refine Phehlukwayo’s batting, which is a bit smash and giggle at the moment.
He also conceded that having begun playing white ball cricket for his country at 20 may have led to his missing out on some necessary first-class cricket grounding.
But he’s convinced that Phehlukwayo’s ability can bridge whatever gap: “We just need to back him. He needs a coach who will back him, stop asking questions and stop making him the easy guy to drop. Sure, he’s young and he’s going to make mistakes and he’s going to look ungainly at times.
“With regard to his batting, all it takes is time with a decent batting coach, somebody who understands his game and won’t change him too much. He’s got all the attributes for batting at eight.
“You need somebody who can score quickly and who has a solid defence. And he has that – I just think he hasn’t worked out his game plan.”
Having played with the man, Klusener disagrees with the idea that every all-rounder who steps into the Proteas side is auditioning to be the next Jacques Kallis.
“Kallis was a totally different animal, and you don’t see guys like that very often. If we compare these guys to Kallis and his numbers, we’re wasting our time.
“I think we need to look for someone batting at eight and bowling you 15 overs of fast bowling a day. If we can find a Kallis, it’ll be happy days. But let’s be realistic and find someone who can bat at eight, average 30-plus in test cricket, and bowl at 135km/h, averaging 28.”
Klusener accepts that current Proteas coach Mark Boucher – who also played with Kallis – may be looking for something similar to his former team-mate.
This is sort of embodied by fit-again Lions all-rounder Wiaan Mulder, a 22-year-old former child prodigy who also made his first-class debut while still at school and answered to the imposing nickname of Baby Kallis because he’s a top five batter.
“As coaches, maybe we do lean towards what’s worked for us in the past,” said Klusener, who, incidentally, feels Mulder’s bowling could also use more horsepower.
“Quality all-rounders bowl at 135km/h and give it [the ball] a beating. Can Mulder do the job? Probably, but in a different way to what Andile would. From the all-rounders we’re looking at, we need a little bit more speed, a little bit more aggression and a little bit more presence like Stokes.
“But if I was the selector, I’d write Andile’s name down as my all-rounder for every single game – he’s got everything.”