There are not many bowlers who have survived a horror Test debut like the one Rory Kleinveldt experienced in Brisbane last year. Kleinveldt conceded 97 in 21 wicketless overs, which included 12 no-balls, and gave the impression that Test cricket’s lights were simply a little bit too bright.
It was a harrowing experience for the 28-year-old fast-medium bowler from Cape Town. Proteas fans who were unaware of Kleinveldt’s good domestic record over the past 12 months that earned him his Test place hurled abuse on the social networks. They had made up their minds that Kleinveldt should join the list of “one-Test wonders” like Imraan Khan, Mark Rushmere, Adrian Kuiper and the late Tertius Bosch.
But Mother Cricket does have a heart, and aligned the stars for Kleinveldt to have another crack at the highest level, and the burly seamer redeemed himself with a good showing in Adelaide the following week. The performance, especially in the second innings when he claimed three Australian wickets, not only showed that he could actually bowl, but that he possessed the mental fortitude to be successful at the highest level.
“It was a very tough learning curve for me playing on flat pitches against good opposition. It was a massive step up from first-class cricket. So I’ve learnt a lot from that and hopefully I can use that in the future,” he said yesterday at St George’s Park – a venue where he has only played two first-class games previously.
Kleinveldt hasn’t played a Test match since his Adelaide rebirth, and is only back in the whites against New Zealand this weekend because he is again deputising for the injured Vernon Philander. The fact that Philander’s misfortune has opened the Test door for him does not bother him at all, though, and instead he views it as just another opportunity to show his skills.
“To be harsh on myself, I probably set too a high a standard and was hard on myself when I didn’t reach those standards. I’ve tended to just relax a bit more and take every game as it come. I’m just happy to get another chance. I’m looking forward to the weekend and giving my all to the team,” he added.
Those who have travelled the long road with Kleinveldt would always have known, though, that all “the Big Show” needed was time to settle in his new environment. The results are already evident in the shortest form of the game, where Kleinveldt also endured a nightmare debut. He has come a long way since conceding 20 runs in his only over against Bangladesh in 2008 to now form an integral part of the national T20 side.
During the recent series against the Black Caps, he claimed the Man of the Match award in the opening game, struck a wall in the form of Martin Guptill, who smashed him for a last-ball four to win the second game in East London for the Kiwis, before recovering well in the last match in Port Elizabeth to close out the T20 series for the Proteas.
Besides being among the wickets, he showed good discipline throughout the series, with his Gabba no-ball problem disappearing altogether. According to Kleinveldt, this was by no means a fluke, but achieved instead through sweating it out with former Proteas bowling coach Vinnie Barnes back home in Cape Town.
“I’ve done a lot of work on my run-up since Adelaide. I sort of extended my run-up a bit. Allan Donald (current Proteas bowling coach) has helped me a lot and I’ve done some work with Vinnie Barnes and Paul Adams (Cobras coach) in Cape Town. The T20 games and the domestic games went pretty well and I didn’t bowl a no-ball there, so hopefully I’m on to something good,” a visibly excited Kleinveldt said.
Kleinveldt’s relationship with Barnes stretches way back, as far back as watching the record-breaking former South African Board fast man open the bowling at his local club, Victoria, when “I was still a laaitie”. The relationship grew even stronger over the years when Barnes moved into coaching, especially with him focusing specifically on the bowlers.
It has been a rough introduction to Test cricket for Kleinveldt. And stepping into the big shoes of Philander doesn’t make it any easier. However, Kleinveldt knows that he has experienced the worst days of career – not only on the field – and has survived. It takes courage to plead guilty to smoking cannabis, like Kleinveldt did last year, and such accountability and personal responsibility will only stand in him in good stead going forward.
The Black Caps may think their arch-nemesis Philander is out of the way this weekend, but everybody knows there is nothing more dangerous that a man who has been given a second chance at life.
Tests 2, Wickets 4, BB 3/65
T20Is 5, Wickets 7, BB 3/18 - Cape Times