EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Heinrich Klaasen: I am not trying to impress anyone anymore

The South African swashbuckler opens up on the two-year long work that has gone into his six-hitting game
The South African swashbuckler opens up on the two-year long work that has gone into his six-hitting game ©BCCI/IPL

Heinrich Klaasen sits on the pinnacle among the best six-hitters in white-ball cricket. It's a skill he has successfully taken to IPL and every league he dominates around the world. In an exclusive interview, the South African swashbuckler opened up on the two-year long work that has gone into his six-hitting game, his detailed preparation against spinners, how he uses data, his multiple childhood batting heroes, why he's jersey #45, and a lot more.

What sort of work has gone into your six-hitting game over the last couple of years?

I've put in a lot of work with Albie Morkel, to make sure I get the technical things right. Just a couple of drills to keep maintaining and fine-tuning it. It's about practising the [bat] swing shape and making sure that the launch angle is good. I worked with Albie two years ago and before the IPL again. We don't see each other a lot but he's a guy that I go to. It's quite a simple couple of drills. We train for two days, basically an hour each. I am not a guy that hits a lot of balls. The drill is simple, it's easy to figure out what's wrong and what's right. I think at the start, a few years ago, it was a little bit longer. But before the IPL, it's just a quick session to make sure everything is going right, and if we have to work on something, we try to sort it out in a few days.

How different does Klaasen the batter look and feel now compared to the 2018 version during international debut?

I think it is a lot simpler. I've definitely matured a lot. I am not trying to impress anyone anymore. I think back then it was almost like I had to show off all my skills that I've got and I was also compared to a guy who can play 360 degrees [AB de Villiers]. So I wanted to show all the shots that I had which messed with my mind quite a bit. Through learning and my experiences, through the years, I've been dropped and my game was in such terrible shape that I really had to go rediscover who the real Heinrich Klaasen was. Where I am sitting right now, it is a lot simpler. Back that one skillset and knowing on the day that if I really need to, I can go to option B and C. So I think it's the maturity. The way I've matured and really kept my game as simple as it can be so my mind can be nice and clear.

Have you had conversations with AB de Villiers? Exchanges six-hitting notes of sorts?

Not really. He's a freak of nature in my eyes. The way he does things... I've been fortunate enough to bat with him. He's obviously a super talent but his brain just works on a different level. That's what made him a genius. And his areas are a lot different.

There was a year that I tried to copy one or two of his shots but it just didn't suit my game. He's a special human being. The genius of his work was that he can know exactly where the bowler will bowl about 70-80% of the time, and that's not something you can teach or learn from anyone.

You said last year that you were experimenting with your batting and found the right formula. Can you elaborate on that?

I experiment quite a bit with playing spin. Trying to see what type of balls I can hit for a six. It doesn't always look good in the nets but you can almost manufacture shots there that you can go okay, in a game if you are really under the pump, you can manufacture something. I do experiment a lot of that and see what I can do just to keep evolving. Obviously all the bowlers keep evolving, they've got new gameplans, they bowl certain ways. So I also need to be a step ahead of them.

So I like experimenting with those aspects of finding new ways to score and getting runs of their good balls. I think that's the most important thing. It's just about experimenting then but also when the game comes, the requirement could come in where you keep an eye out and just wait for the ball that is bowled in that area... and then if you get off to a flier, then you can start doing those things that you trained in the nets, and what your hands and eyes see, what you can hit and what you can't, you just take those experiences into the game.

Your game and numbers against spin are nearly unmatched in the format for a while now. How have you honed that?

It comes from when I just started playing semi-professional cricket. I've been lucky that I've played some quality spinners back home. They usually got me out, so I had to really find a way to score the runs, and almost balance out the ratio against them. You just want to be on top of them. As long as the ratio is on your side and you're winning the battle all the time, you've got to accept that they won't get you out. So in the nets, I try a lot of things, sweeping on different lengths. Those things work for a while. The pick up pull came into play against some bowlers and that worked nicely. So it's just about trying to find options to keep on scoring. That's the kind of experimentation that's going on in the nets.

It doesn't always look good, I do get out a lot in the nets while trying all the options or trying to hit balls from certain lengths. It's nice and fun in the nets but as long as you come to the game and you know what your real plans are, it's important. The more you train and gain experience, I feel like, your hands and eyes remember what they saw in the nets and sometimes you pull it off. So in the game when the ball comes, it's not foreign to the hands and eyes. That's when the shots come off and it's almost like instincts take over.

Any spinner who has challenged you then?

I like facing [Yuzvendra] Chahal. It's always been a good battle. He's got me out a couple of times and I've been scoring off him, so that ratio is nice, I feel. I know he's an excellent bowler, he's one of my good friends as well so that will always be a nice challenge. He's one of the bowlers that is always sticking to his gameplan. Even if you hit him for a couple of good shots, he still follows his process. Obviously he's one of my mates so you want to take him down. He's been good.

And Jadeja has been good on his type of wickets. So that's always a nice challenge. So those two spinners in particular, it's been good. I haven't faced a lot of Jadeja so I am looking forward to more of that.

"In one of the previous games, I'd asked if I could stand up to the stumps but I was told no"
"In one of the previous games, I'd asked if I could stand up to the stumps but I was told no" ©BCCI

Are you a batter who likes to look at batting videos of yourself and refer to the abundant data and opposition scouting that's available to teams these days?

I don't look at my net sessions. My net sessions aren't really great. That's why I experiment. If I am looking at videos, I'd really get into the matches that I performed well in. I'd go check how the bat swing looks from the games I've played in the past. Then I do a lot of homework on spinners in a sense of where they miss and where they're likely to bowl to me. Those kinds of things that give me an idea of what they do and how I can set up against them. Doing homework on bowlers, on seamers as well - whether they go more slower balls or more pace on, what lengths are they going to hit. There's a lot of homework behind the scenes. On the day, it could be different because the wicket could be different and you could be up to playing differently. So I just want to know what they (bowlers) have, if there's anything that stands out - if there's a difficult googly or variation to pick. Or if there's a bowler who has a knuckle ball. You just get your eyes to identify it.

You're right on top of the six-hitting charts with 17 this season but Abhishek Sharma has got 16 and even Nitish Reddy hit 5 the other day. Do the younger players in the squad sort of pick your brains about your technique?

Yeah we've had a couple of conversations. We've got a good group with phenomenal talent in the change room. These boys are hitting the balls so cleanly, I am in awe when I look at how they bat in the nets and how they hit the ball. That way you also pick up some things that they do right and keep adding to your game. I don't think you're too old to learn, that's the biggest thing I've learnt. Doesn't matter how young the guy is, you can still learn from him. I also pick up small things that they do so it's for me to keep looking around and think 'gee, that might work, let's try it out a little bit'. All the experimentations I do in the nets - I think 'it worked for him so let me try it.' If it works [for me as well], great, if it doesn't, you move to the next idea.

What's been your favourite knock in these two transformative years?

In recent times, I think the one that stands out for me is against Australia at SuperSport Park. That was a nice moment because it came in my home town and against an extremely good side. And then in the World Cup (2023) in Mumbai against England. That was by far the toughest conditions I've played cricket in and to play an innings like that will always go down as probably my favourite innings.

Who was your childhood batting hero?

I haven't really had one specific guy that I looked up to. I've always gone through stages. At the start, it was Chris Gayle. I just loved how he dominated any kind of bowler. That's why I've got Number 45 on my back, he was the reason behind it. And then I went through a stage where I watched a lot of Matthew Hayden. The way he played his game. Then Brendon McCullum, when he went through the phase of teeing off against everyone, and then I went through a phase where I looked at how Michael Clarke played spin. I tried to copy a little bit of his technique into my spin play. I went through a lot of phases where I liked certain types of batters and how they played. Even with the keeping, I always looked at a lot of keepers and thought I might use this technique against this type of bowler. I always just pick and choose, and whatever is the focus of my game, what works and doesn't work, and I'll just keep moving.

What's been your favourite venue to play in?

I am going to be very biased. It's two in South Africa. Super Sport Park - I don't think there's any better place in the world to play cricket at, especially on a Friday night. And Boland Park (Paarl) has always been my favourite. The mountains in the backdrop and the sun set looks just unbelievable. In the IPL, I obviously enjoy Hyderabad. The wicket has been fantastic there. But probably one of the loudest places I've been to is Mumbai. It's a nice wicket too, as well and a great atmosphere.

Let's talk about that Shikhar Dhawan stumping...

To be fair, I haven't done that in a while. I do enjoy standing up to the stumps. Ever since I was a young kid I've enjoyed doing that. Obviously on this level, bowlers don't really like it. In one of the previous games, I'd asked if I could stand up to the stumps but I was told no, there were other options. In this game, I was walking back and chatting to someone at first slip and the next moment I saw my helmet coming on the field. It was never a conversation, it was purely Bhuvi and Pat's decision.

On the first ball I was a little bit nervous. He was bowling nicely but the way Bhuvi bowls, he's always around the stumps so he's never going to bowl one far down the leg. Shikhar's bat was in my eyes the whole time so I had to adjust my setup a little bit just to see the ball. I honestly didn't expect him to run down [the stumps], so yeah it was a nice stumping and I was quite proud of it.

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