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Ken Borland

Rassie backing up Temba as a leader, with the best of them as a batsman & raising the bar all round

Posted on February 15, 2022 by Ken

Rassie van der Dussen pulls stylishly at the Wanderers. – Photo by Marcel Sigg

Temba Bavuma has made a tremendous start to his tenure as South Africa’s white-ball captain, and Keshav Maharaj was also excellent when standing in for him, but it is heartening to know that if they are unfortunately unavailable for any reason, there is another calm, deep-thinking leader in the team who could do the job with aplomb.

Rassie van der Dussen has cemented his place in the limited-overs teams in spectacular fashion and his heroics in the recently-completed ODI whitewash of India leave him with 1267 runs in 26 innings in the 50-over format, at the extraordinary average of 74.52.

The second oldest of four sports-mad brothers, Van der Dussen was first touted as leadership material during the horrors of the 2019 World Cup in England. Amidst a chaotic campaign, the Pretoria product impressed with his cool head and clear thinking, as well as the three half-centuries he scored in six innings, finishing the tournament with an average of 62.

That same composure and ability to adapt to any situation was clearly evident during the memorable Test and ODI series wins over India. There were times Van der Dussen had to dig in defiantly; on other occasions he turned the momentum through positive strokeplay and no little skill.

“The Test series was definitely the toughest conditions I’ve ever had to bat in and it was high pressure with the Indian bowlers just never letting you go,” Van der Dussen told Saturday Citizen.

“Every session seemed to be more important than the last, every moment things could swing the other way. It was extremely mentally testing. But being mentally strong is something I pride myself on.

“Under pressure I need to be level-headed and to analyse the situation objectively. Throughout my career I’ve believed that I can manage the chase, absorb the pressure when the opposition is bowling well.

“I pride myself on performing in the big moments and matches. It maybe comes from playing club cricket in Pretoria from a young age, playing against men. There was often verbal abuse and you had to deal with it,” Van der Dussen said in typically stoic fashion.

The 32-year-old currently has the highest average in ODI history of all batsmen who have played at least 20 innings and when one looks at some of the other superstars near the top of that list – Virat Kohli (58.77), Babar Azam (56.92), Michael Bevan (53.58) and AB de Villiers (53.50) – one thing characterises them all. They are all expert players of the situation, whether it called for consolidation or acceleration.

Many other just as talented batsmen ended with inferior records because they would only play in one way, arguing that that was their “natural game”.

“A batsman can be labelled with that – ‘that’s just the way he plays,’ people will say. But it can also be a cop-out,” Van der Dussen said.

“Whenever I bat, I try to change the match and there is always a certain amount of responsibility you have to accept. It’s about reading the match situation and working out what is needed.

“That’s always my thing: to put the team in a good position to win the game. At the Wanderers Test, I knew Dean and I had to be in overnight, the runs did not matter at the end of the third day. But then we were able to start well the next day.”

The way Van der Dussen stayed calm and clear-headed under immense pressure from India was in stark contrast to visiting wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant, a great talent who twice got out for ducks at crucial times on tour due to wild forays down the pitch to try and slog the bowler.

Van der Dussen admits he did have a few words with Pant, who ‘caught’ him in the first innings of the Wanderers Test when the ball had clearly bounced, but the phlegmatic Central Gauteng Lions star did raise the bar above petty sledging.

“I like to think I’m a deep thinker and I just asked Pant a few questions, nothing attacking him personally, but I guess they did not sit well with him. I suppose it made him think differently.

“But the Wanderers incident was a massive moment because chasing 280-300 would possibly have been too much for us and he’s a young and exciting player. We did speak about making sure that was a moment India would really regret and capitalising on it,” Van der Dussen said.

It will surprise no-one that someone as pragmatic as Van der Dussen already has a plan for life after cricket and has gone into business with his agent and close friend Chris Cardoso.

“I’m really enjoying delving into the business side and we now have three coffee shops – called Abantu Coffee – in the Centurion area. Our aim is to make good coffee and create as many jobs as we can.

“I really want to scale up my involvement in it and I enjoy being hands-on in the business,” Van der Dussen said.

Something else that the Menlo Park High School and Affies alma mater enjoys immensely, along with wife Lara, is the bush and especially birdwatching.

Even in that hobby, Van der Dussen is trying to make a change for good with his support of the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project, along with Cardoso.

“I go to Mabula about twice a year, Chris owns a unit in Mabula and through our conservation fund African FRDM x Environment we are helping them with the great work they do in trying to secure a good future for these endangered birds.

“We’ve helped them with new tyres and in trying to build suitable nest boxes that are strong enough for these massive birds and their huge beaks.

“I’ve loved the bush from early on because my grandfather had a farm with game and cattle at Springbokvlakte between Modimolle and Marble Hall. Growing up amongst animals I learnt things like tracking.

“Which got me into birdwatching because of the thrill of the chase, you hear the call and you want to track the bird down and see it. For Lara and I, seeing a rare bird gives us the same feeling as seeing a lion or a leopard,” Van der Dussen said.

But for now, dreams of spending more time in the bush have had to take a back seat because Van der Dussen is spotting both the red and the white ball extremely well at the moment.

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