How Heinrich Klaasen turned on beast mode

South Africa

Heinrich Klaasen spent Friday night either watching the highlights of his 83-ball 174 or looking after his nine-month old daughter Laya; or maybe juggling a bit of both as he soaked in what he hinted was the most enjoyable match of his career.

“It was special and a lot to take in. I will go tonight and watch a bit of the highlights,” a visibly emotional Klaasen said afterwards, though he later turned on dad mode when asked what keeps him motivated. “Having a family has changed things for me. The little one doesn’t care what I’ve done tonight. I saw she’s awake already so it might be a long night.”

It was likely a long one either way as Klaasen tried to make sense of a blistering knock that he approached with a Midas touch.

As it was happening, he tried not to think about it and forced himself to stay in every moment of the match, so much so that when offered the chance to sit out the first part of South Africa’s fielding innings, he refused, so that could be on the park with the rest of the team.

“What’s changed in my career is that I am playing every ball as it is and for me to stay in that mindset, I don’t recap what I have done the previous ball or think of what I might do the next ball,” he said. “Tim David asked me how many sixes I hit and I said I didn’t know. It shows my mindset was good and I was only focusing on what’s coming in that moment. I have to go back and look at it. It was awesome out there and you don’t often get that feeling – maybe once or twice in your career.”

“You look up to some role models and you want to be like them – like AB de Villiers. You want to play all the shots but the genius behind guys like AB was knowing when to play them,” Klaasen said. “For me, I explored a lot with it and it didn’t work. It was about maturing into my game and knowing my options are.”

That level of fine-tuning only happened when Klaasen was dropped after a series against Sri Lanka in 2021. He missed matches against India and Bangladesh in early 2022 and went back to his domestic team, the Titans, based at SuperSport Park. “The coaches said to me, ‘You are using too many options. Let’s limit yourself,’ he explained.

What Klaasen removed was the instinct to go hard from the first ball, as evidenced in a small way in this match. He scored just one boundary in his first 10 balls and only two in his first 26. “I am batting within myself at the start to make sure I get a good platform and then I can just react to every ball: stand still, watch the ball and wherever I need to hit it, my body will take over and just react,” he said. “It took me a couple of months to get back to my best and a lot of hard work.”

He called that period “the turning point of my career,” when he “hit a lot of balls,” which is not something he spent a lot of time on in the past. “I am not a guy who hits a lot of balls at training but I needed to do it. I needed to invest in my batting again,” he said.

The return was that Klaasen finished as the top run-scorer in the domestic one-day cup and was recalled for South Africa’s white-ball series in England mid-2022. He scored two half-centuries in eight innings in the next eight months and has since gone on to add two hundreds in his next six innings, the latest at the ground that it dearest to him. “I grew up here,” he said.

Klaasen told the host broadcaster he believed the venue and the people there had looked after him and in the press conference, also credited his close circle with keeping him going, though not always in the way you might imagine.

“I’ve got a lot of friends who are pretty hard on me. It keeps me humble,” he said. “When you screw up, they let you know about it, so you have to put in the hard work but when you do well, they congratulate you and have a drink with you and also celebrate with you.”

We all know what they were doing on Friday night.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s correspondent for South Africa and women’s cricket

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