Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, RASSIE VAN DER DUSSEN talks about his dream Proteas selection, his responsibility as a role model and South Africa’s World Cup chances following seven failed attempts.
Sport24 asked: How would you sum up your ODI call-up at the age of 29?
Rassie van der Dussen: As a professional sportsman, I suppose you are always wondering whether you are going to reach your goals and, if so, when? I was in the Caribbean, playing in their T20 Premier League, when I got the call from Cricket South Africa convenor of selectors, Linda Zondi. It was exciting being there, playing with and against some of the best players in the world, and then getting the call-up to play for my country was special. I wasn’t reachable on my normal number and received a WhatsApp call quite early in the morning. It got me out of bed pretty quickly and I couldn’t stop smiling for the duration of breakfast in the team hotel. I had to keep it confidential and couldn’t tell anyone, however, it was a great day... I went into the domestic season and overseas leagues without feeling the added pressure of having to do well in order to crack the national set-up. Coming into the Proteas team and realising that I didn’t have to prove myself to anyone was pivotal. Experienced cricketers such as Faf du Plessis, Dale Steyn and JP Duminy are players I have looked up to and who have been my heroes for so long. It made me feel relaxed when they came to me individually beforehand and told me they know what I am about and to do what I have always done.
Sport24 asked: How would you assess your ODI debut for the Proteas?
Rassie van der Dussen: Making my ODI debut against Pakistan in Port Elizabeth in January was a very special day. Playing for the Proteas is the stuff that dreams are made of and this year has been unbelievable on a personal front. It’s something I have worked towards for a long time in my career and to finally get there was very satisfying. I remember being on the field singing the national anthem and realising that it was a dream come true. This is where I feel I need to be at this time in my life. When I had the opportunity to wield the willow, I went out there and did what I have always done. I followed the same processes by taking it one ball at a time. My 93 off 101 balls is definitely an early career highlight from an international point of view and I couldn’t have asked for much more on debut (barring an SA victory). I stuck to the fundamentals and luckily it was a good day for me. (Van der Dussen has played nine ODIs for South Africa and scored 353 runs at an average of 88).
Sport24 asked: How have you dealt with the added public attention?
Rassie van der Dussen: As an international player, I know that I am in the limelight and there are often more eyes on you. However, I don’t read too much into that and try to stay true to myself. I am a very laid back person and if you look at me that is probably what you will see. I would like to think I am still the same Rassie who started the game all those years ago. In fact, I would suggest that I am a better version of myself. Every training session, match and season, I try to improve not only as a cricketer, but as a person too. When there is an audience you are often scrutinised in terms of how you act and carry yourself in certain situations. I believe that is something sports people have to be mindful of. There are many youngsters looking to you as a role model for direction. I remember when I was growing up; I was watching my sporting heroes’ every move and hanging off each and every word coming from their lips. Being a professional sportsperson comes with a big responsibility and I’m mindful of that in the public domain... In terms of my style, according to some people I am ridiculously laid back off the field. I’m your normal guy on the street and like to wear shorts and flip-flops. Coming from the Highveld in Pretoria, which is warm most days, I’m also comfortable in a cap and T-shirt, but my wife tries to dress me up more. However, I prefer comfort over style. I’m sponsored by Puma and they make me look good as opposed to the other way round.
Sport24 asked: How do you handle the pressure at the highest level?
Rassie van der Dussen: In international sport the pressure is always on, with crowds, cameras and media involved. Ottis Gibson is a very laid back guy most of the time, but is professional and methodical when he needs to be. He has a very calming and confident energy about him and the team feeds off that. It calms the team down, reassures us and gets us back to what we need to do in the moment. When it’s crunch time you need to be able to stay calm and deliver your best under pressure. ODI and T20 cricket is so fast paced, with music playing and crowds shouting, but being cool under pressure is something I pride myself on. It’s an important facet to have to your batting and, when the pressure is on you need to stay calm. In terms of when to attack and when to defend, more often than not the game situation will tell you how to play. It’s about thinking on your feet, assessing the bowlers and run-rate required and what a good score will be on a certain pitch if you are batting first. As a player, I also believe it’s extremely important to be adaptable. You need to have an attacking game, but also have a composed one in order to make sure that you steer the team in the right direction… In terms of captaincy, it’s a role that comes naturally to me (Van der Dussen has served as vice-captain for the Highveld Lions) and it fits in with who I try to be as a player as far as thinking about the game and strategising against bowlers and batsmen. I’m of the view that you don’t necessarily always have to have a title to be a leader. For me, captaincy isn’t something that adds extra pressure and my on-field thinking is similar whether or not I’m wearing the armband.
Sport24 asked: Can the Proteas channel the ‘438’ spirit in the UK?
Rassie van der Dussen: Definitely. I remember the famous '438' game in 2006 quite vividly. It was a Sunday and I watched the whole match. As painful as watching Australia’s innings with the bat was, I always felt that the Proteas had something special in them. To be honest, I never really lost hope or thought that we would lose the match. Any South African doesn't like to lose to Australia and the fact that the win clinched the five-match series was special. I sat and watched every ball and now it will be unbelievable to go to the UK and wear the jersey. I can tell you that we are going to give every ounce of who we are as players in an attempt to win the 2019 World Cup. There are very few instances, if any, that are bigger and come with the amount of honour and responsibility than being chosen to represent the country that you love on the biggest stage in the world. I know the support from back home will be unbelievable and that is always inspiring for a sportsman in general. I am excited for the World Cup. We don’t go in as favourites, but you never know what can happen. Late statesman Nelson Mandela once said that “sport has the power to change the world” and our plan as Proteas is to touch each household and every person in the country. Competing at the World Cup is an opportunity for us, as players, to make the country proud (South Africa open their account against hosts, England, on May 30 and play their final round-robin fixture against Australia on July 6).