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Dieter Klein - 'I’ll definitely be in the loop with German cricket. That won’t stop soon'
EXCLUSIVE: Germany's Dieter Klein speaks to All Over Cricket ahead of the Men's T20 World Cup Global Qualifier A
Gary Linekar, former World Cup Golden Boot winner, believed football was a simple game designed for the Germans to win. And when they didn’t win, they were the gutsiest on the field, ensuring no easy passes for the opposition.
In the 1970 World Cup semi-final against Italy, Gerd Muller got Germany a 2-1 lead and equalised again to make it 3-3 only for Gianni Rivera to see Italy through and break tens of millions of German hearts. Their 1970 World Cup campaign, although bittersweet, was a vindication of the Germans’ never-say-die attitude.
It is unlikely, however, that many will reflect as strongly on the German men’s cricket team’s narrow one-run loss to Italy in 2021 at the Men’s T20 World Cup Europe Qualifier.
The immediate reaction from many diehard football fans might be: “What do you mean? Do they even play cricket in Germany?”
Dieter Klein, former Leicestershire left-arm quick, found himself asking his agent just that when asked if he had any ambition to play International cricket for Germany.
Born in South Africa and having spent nearly seven seasons playing domestic cricket, Klein left for England in search of greener pastures with a German passport which enabled him to play as a local player. After three years of club cricket playing for Lowerhouse CC in Lancashire and several county trials, Leicestershire snapped him up in 2015.
It was only during a Championship game in 2018 that one of the umpires urged him to re-think his Germany plans, not too long after the ICC granted T20 International status to all of its 105 members at the time.
“I was playing a game for Leicestershire when one of the umpires asked me, ‘Listen I heard you have got a German passport and I umpired in one or two games for Germany recently and the standard was not bad. I think you should give it a go’. That more or less sold it to me,” recalls Klein in an exclusive chat with All Over Cricket.
“If I could help in any way to raise the level and put my experiences into the team and if it was possible around my county commitments, I definitely wanted to play for Germany.”
Shortly after the English domestic season, he flew down to Hessen and attended training sessions at an indoor facility with the rest of the squad which included Middlesex off-spinner Ollie Rayner and Glamorgan all-rounder Craig Meschede. He was also named in the squad for the 2019 European Regional Qualifier Finals held in Guernsey but was forced to pull out owing to county commitments.
“Before I went there [Hessen in 2018], I was told that obviously it won’t be 100 percent the standard that we were playing at [in the UK]. If you think about International cricket, the perception is Associate nations are not as good. It’s more of a club cricket level and I was quite surprised at the standard some of the guys were at because of the minimum competitive cricket they played during the year.
“To be still that good, I was pretty surprised but I never went there thinking about much lower standards. The strides the German side has made in terms of players and how they go about their game has gone a long way,” he adds.
Cricket in Germany prior to 2015 wasn’t nearly as popular as it is now. With a major influx of expats and refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, the interest grew multiple folds, so much so that the number of club teams in the country grew from 70 in 2012 to more than 350 in 2019.
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Klein’s much-awaited International bow for Germany finally came a year later in Almeria, Spain against the home side in a two-match T20I series, when Klein struck with his very first ball and followed it up with a match-winning 12-ball 31 and figures of 1-12 in the second game. He made his mark on the field, but what was it like walking into a new dressing room?
“It was a strange one, let’s say that. Obviously, you don’t want to go there thinking that just because people think the standards [playing Associate cricket] may drop, they’ll judge you any less. You still have to make an impression but there was no pressure on me. Some of the players look up to me quite a bit. I always try to lead by example.”
Indeed, he did lead by example at last year’s Europe Qualifier. Chasing 118 in their final game against Italy, Germany was pretty much dead and buried after collapsing to 57 for six with only 31 deliveries remaining. In order to avoid elimination, they needed to score 92 or more and pip Italy on net run rate.
The rescue act came from Klein’s 18-ball 28. He added 59 runs for the seventh-wicket with Sahir Naqash (21*), which included a towering six off Jade Dernbach, the former England bowler, to see Germany through to the Men’s T20 World Cup Global Qualifier for the first time alongside Jersey. Even though Klein’s last-ball six, later on, did not prevent a narrow one-run loss, the result hardly mattered.
“That comes down to experience,” said Klein of his feat. “As a cricketer, very quickly you become so focused on the individual that’s running in that you almost forget about watching the ball. For me, it’s always been a big thing to take the bowler out of the equation and just play the ball on its merit…We’ll be coming up against pretty decent bowlers now so it’s going to be quite important for us, as a squad — to be playing the ball and not the player. It’s just another human releasing the ball!”
Germany is currently in Oman for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Qualifier A starting 18th February. They would hope for similar all-round onslaughts from Klein, a veteran of 71 first-class games and 39 T20s, as they prepare to face full member Ireland, a red-hot UAE, and a Bahraini unit capable of springing a surprise on more fancied opponents. The road to Australia is understandably not straightforward but Klein expects his side to be gutsy.
“It was important for us to get through the European qualifiers, that was a proper box that we have ticked off,” said the 33-year-old. “Getting to the Global Qualifier, I think it’s about playing the best cricket that we can and making sure we keep competing. We are always looking to win games but also embracing the learning phase is just as important. We are not going to feel horrendous if we lose to Ireland but we definitely won’t be going in thinking of a loss. Looking at our squad, we have got a strong team. They are not going to know a lot about our team which may put us in a better position.
“I don’t think the guys are that far behind. It’s just the amount of games that need to be played to be comfortable with various situations. You take the last game against Italy. It was just about staying calm and taking it as deep as you can. You don’t need to smash it in five overs and get yourselves in trouble being six down early on.”
For Klein, the Qualifier comes with an added incentive. Having lost his county contract with Leicestershire shortly before the regional qualifier in October last year, he hopes to pitch his case for other counties in order to “throw my head in for a few more years of county cricket”.
At the moment, Klein has no commitments when he returns home apart from using his ECB Level 3 coaching certificate.
Encouragingly for Germany, one thing is for certain: “I’ll definitely be in the loop with German cricket. That won’t come to a stop soon.”
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