Johannesburg – It took Andile Phehlukwayo four days to work out what he’d let himself in for.
The all-rounder’s 29 from 23 balls, which included two typically lusty sixes on Sunday helped the Proteas over the line in a game they could be forgiven for having thought they had lost against New Zealand’s Black Caps.
Then, on Wednesday, having a few days before created the expectation that he was the man for a crisis, Phehlukwayo failed to turn 15 off the last over into a win – which would have been something like turning water into wine.
When an inspired Tim Southee found the block hole to the tune of four successive dot balls from the first four deliveries of the final over, we couldn’t help but judge Phehlukwayo, even though he did reverse-sweep the last two balls for four.
“Why take none of the singles from the first four balls,” we cried in unison. Well, because bighearted but limited Imran Tahir was on the other end, so Phehlukwayo correctly surmised only he could get the job done.
But he didn’t get the job done, which is the problem with being christened a finisher – a task that is as thankless as coaching the Boks.
Get it right and people offer you their daughter’s hand in marriage. Get it wrong, the same folks curse your unfortunate birth.
At 20 years old, this is pretty much all Phehlukwayo has to look forward to in life, because his worth will forever be measured by whether the smash and giggle comes off or not.
If he doesn’t believe that, he should just ask the man he reminds us most of – and his mentor – Lance “Zulu” Klusener.
Zulu was South Africa’s best finisher, yet all we remember him for is that run-out mix-up with Allan Donald in the 1999 World Cup semifinal against Australia.
The irony is, that looked at in context, Klusener had performed miracles to so much as even get the Proteas in that winning position.
However, the only thing people remember is the result. This isn’t entirely fair as finishing is possibly the most difficult job on a cricket field – because there are so many moving parts at the back end of a one-day game.
The finisher, or, more to the point, patron saint of lost causes, has to factor in whether he has to knock it around or blast it from the off; rotate strike or keep it, depending on whether he is in with an established batsman or shepherding a tailender; know the dynamics of the stadium like the back of his hand for cheap boundaries; or predict what the bowler is going to do.
The list is endless.
And, all the time, it’s not just about pure power-hitting.
The player also has to be equipped with a slew of unorthodox shots like the reverse sweep, the ramp, the Dilscoop and the switch hit to drag the bowler away from the lines he’d like to bowl.
The main thing is to keep your head when everyone is going absolutely bonkers around you. And that in itself takes a little craziness, if you think about it.
This is why it is said that the greatest finisher before Mahendra Singh Dhoni, namely Australia’s Michael Bevan, was so intense that he used to take a cold shower while still wearing all of his kit on the rare occasions he failed.
Unfortunately for Phehlukwayo, it’s the kind of job he can’t avoid even if he wanted to.
When he was captain of the Glenwood first XI, he would either open the bowling or bring himself on when they needed a breakthrough, or back himself to hit his team out of trouble.
And, by all accounts, he was a wonderful fielder who had to be involved in the game at all times.
The similarities with Klusener also hint at a destiny of sorts: he actually is Zulu, as opposed to just being called that; he bowls right-handed and bats left-handed; and the number on his jersey in franchise cricket is the iconic 69 Klusener wore when he played for the Proteas.
So this is what we have to do to avoid history repeating itself: Find out what Phehlukwayo is like when running between the wickets.
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