Like all players who have supposedly “come out of nowhere” to force themselves into the consciousness of a sporting nation, Hendrik Erasmus van der Dussen has spent a much of his adult life trying to be the overnight sensation he has become with the Proteas.
Better known as Rassie, Van der Dussen – who turns 30 this week – first travelled for his cricket when he left the Titans because more illustrious team-mates named AB de Villiers, Jacques Rudolph and Faf du Plessis were blocking his path.
The catch was that his choice of cricketing destination was sleepy old Potch, where the tumbleweeds are plenty and the wickets as flat as the N1. Once there, the then opening batsman got what he wanted – runs, and plenty of them.
“But then people started giving him grief, saying that he could only score runs on flat wickets,” says the Lions batsman’s former coach, Geoff Toyana.
“Yet he kept getting runs to push the batsmen we had at the Lions who were ahead of him, and there was pressure on me as a coach to pick him.
“At the time, I had too many openers in the team, so I had to have a tough conversation with him and ask him how he felt about dropping down the order. The way he took that showed his attitude as a team man.”
Once he got his foot in the door at the Lions, Van der Dussen continued to improve and take his chances. The most recent opportunity he has made the most of was the start to his Proteas one-day international (ODI) career, where he scored 241 runs in five games (four innings, top score 93) against Pakistan at an average of 120.50.
Such has his impact been that he has been spoken of as one of the batsmen who have secured their spot in the Proteas’ World Cup squad, based on scoring three measured half centuries – while remaining the epitome of calm under pressure.
“His mental strength is one of his best attributes,” says Toyana. “When he got runs a couple of years ago, the national selectors ignored him, but he kept working hard because he knew his opportunity would come.
“It’s all about what he does behind the scenes. He hits a lot of balls, understands his strengths and weaknesses, and works on those weaknesses. I see that he batted at three and four for the Proteas. He can adapt his game and not be fussed about it, and he knows how to pace the game.”
While renowned for being willing to travel to improve his game – he’s been to England, Ireland, the Netherlands, Canada and the Caribbean in search of that last bit to get him to international cricket – it is his legendary work ethic that has seen his charmed start to life as an ODI cricketer.
“I remember one year where he sacrificed the chance to make some money by not going to England to work on his game,” explains Toyana. “He really trained hard, and got fitter and stronger. I remember that he wasn’t the best fielder when he first joined us and he didn’t like diving.
“But he’s worked hard on his diving and catching, and has become a complete cricketer who has put the national selectors in a tight corner. His hunger and work ethic are incredible. He’s one of the leaders in the Lions team who is not a selfish player. He helps the younger players, regardless of whether they’re direct competition or not.”
Nicknamed “Mathousand” by Lions spinner Aaron Phangiso because he scores heavily, Van der Dussen – who was the top scorer in the inaugural Mzansi Super League with 469 at 58.62 and a strike rate of 138.75 – brings variety to the Proteas set-up.
“In four-day cricket, he’s probably best batting at four, but in white-ball cricket, he’s very dangerous in the power plays. So he should open in the shorter format of the game.”
A product of Menlo Park High School in Pretoria, Van der Dussen cuts a diverse figure off the field, designing kit, shirts and caps (he apparently once designed the Lions’ caps for a competition a few years ago) with his agent, and is a regular presence when the players go partying in the township.