All-format specialist van der Dussen ready for the step up
South Africa A are heartbroken after coming within seven balls of salvaging a creditable draw against a strong India A side in a four-dayer at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. India A's coach Rahul Dravid dead-bats questions on whether Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal are ready for Test cricket and leaves. Enter Rassie van der Dussen. Rassie who? A fellow reporter mistakes van der Dussen, who wasn't picked for that match, for Rudi Second, who had made twin 94s. Van der Dussen, however, plays it cool and says: "that wasn't me, mate (laughs)."
Get acquainted with van der Dussen: an attacking batsman, who can flay the ball over the covers with both feet in the air, Lions' vice-captain, top-scorer in South Africa's first-class domestic competition in 2017-18, Global T20 Canada winner and St Kitts & Nevis Patriots' latest recruit in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) 2018.
Van der Dussen also boasts of hitting back-to-back centuries on back-to-back days in a rain-hit one-day league final in Belfast in August 2015. He cracked 116 off 102 balls for The Church of Ireland Young Men's Society (CIYMS), leaving his team-mates chuffed, except his efforts were ruined by rain and meant that the final had to be replayed the next day, in accordance with the playing conditions. But the date was the only perceptible change the next day, as the same-old van der Dussen hit another hundred, leading his side to the title with a Player-of-the-Match performance.
"People in Belfast still speak fondly of that tale," van der Dussen tells ESPNcricinfo. "That final tuned up my mental strength and taught me a few lessons. "If you can do the job one day, you have to believe you can do the job on the next day as well."
And last month he did the job for Vancouver Knights, his unbeaten 44 helping guide the team to the Global T20 Canada crown.
While he usually opens the batting for Lions in T20s in South Africa and belts the new ball, in Vancouver he was entrusted with the responsibility of anchoring the innings in the middle. He fit into the new role like a glove and ended the tournament as the second-highest scorer, with 255 runs in eight innings at an average of 51 and strike rate of 118.05. It impressed Vancouver's coach Donovan Miller, who also coaches Patriots in the CPL.
So it's only a corollary that the 29-year old has now joined Patriots for the second half of CPL 2018, replacing Nepal legspinner Sandeep Lamicchane, who will be away on national duty.
"Although cricket is quite big, we have a limited audience in South Africa, so for me to get a chance to play in front of a global audience in the CPL, play in front of the likes of Tom Moody and Donovan is great," van der Dussen says. "Donovan liked what he saw of me in the Canada T20s. Most of the West Indies batters are so expressive; they've got one gear. I can also play the aggressive role and facilitating role in the middle to see the team home like I did at Vancouver. I think that works well in a West Indian, high-pressure environment as well. Somebody to steer a T20 innings and I suppose that impressed Donovan the most and that's how the CPL call-up happened."
Van der Dussen was supposed to team up with Chris Gayle at Cape Town Knight Riders in the T20 Global League in South Africa last year, but then the competition was scrapped. He did, however, combine with not just Gayle but also Andre Russell at Vancouver, absorbing valuable T20 lessons from them. He looks forward to reuniting with Gayle - this time at Patriots - and bantering with Russell, who started the CPL with a bang as Jamaica Tallawahs' captain.
"I was lucky to be picked up there to play with Gayle and Dre," van der Dussen says. "I think the thing that stood about them is their clarity of mind. So, in terms of Gayle, he knows if the ball pitches in a certain area it's going to go for a six come what may. Sometimes, you take some time to realign those skill-sets. When you come out of four-day cricket, you leave balls outside off whereas in a T20 you try and hit sixes under pressure. So, that's what I learnt from those guys.
"They keep training simple and it's a lot about being strong mentally. That's why they're so good. Gayle is the Universe Boss - I've played with him at Lions too - and will make things easy for me at Patriots and as for Andre, yeah... I will come up against him (laughs)."
Van der Dussen, himself, is a big-hitter in South Africa, with three T20 hundreds in 65 matches. He puts that down to "out-of-the-box" training methods, which, he believes, are transferable to batting. Kick-boxing and cross-training make his hands quicker while plyometrics strengthens his quads and hamstrings. Setting a bowling machine at about 140kph and working out which balls can be sent to the boundary, the more traditional routine, is also part of his power-training.
"When you develop such power, you can score a six, even with a half-decent hit. Such different methods of training help you strike the ball 10% better and that could be the difference between caught at the boundary or hitting a six and being the hero."
Van der Dussen, though, remains wary of the spinners, who are getting more purchase in the Caribbean than what they do in South Africa or Canada. "In South Africa, spin does not play as much of a factor and the wickets are fast and skiddy," he says. "Guys like [Aaron] Phangiso and [Imran] Tahir bowl flat and don't give much to hit. From what I heard from people in the Caribbean, the wickets are much slower and you have to be quick on your feet and that's something I've to address."
When asked about his Lions opening partner Reeza Hendricks' rollicking ODI debut in Pallekele, and his prospects of joining him in the national team, van der Dussen plays it cool again, like he did, when he was mistaken for Second at the press conference.
"Absolutely chuffed for Reeza. He is a classy player to watch and he's a guy I admire the way he goes about his innings," van der Dussen says. "He's calm and Hashim Amla-like, when he bats. It was a good season for me back home and I finished top of the runs in the country. I turned every page and worked hard with my batting coach Justin Sammons and we put a lot of thought into my game. Hopefully, I go well at the CPL and play some meaningful and match-winning innings. It is a massive goal and dream of mine to play for South Africa. But, even if it doesn't happen, there's something else destined. That's the beauty of life."