Cape Town – Number four … virtually throughout time in cricket, it has generally been considered the glamour position in any batting order.
But opponents doing thorough research, as they no doubt will, on South Africa for their CWC 2019 meetings may have to dig just that little bit further than anticipated for archive footage and the like on the Proteas’ likely occupant of that pivotal berth.
Rassie van der Dussen has operated there, with encouraging success, in all of his last four one-day internationals of a still fledgling career at the loftiest level -- so there will be a good chance that is also where he begins his maiden exposure to a World Cup in the UK from late May.
It seems captain Faf du Plessis, after all, will prefer to operate at “first drop”, having done so in four of his last five ODI innings and overwhelmingly in his illustrious career in the format: 74 times from 134 appearances.
No 3 is also where, statistically, Du Plessis comes most prodigiously to the fore: he averages a giddy, highly reassuring 53.92 in that position, well up on his career figure across the various slots of 46.54.
Unless there is going to be a slightly unexpected – or sometimes state-of-game-dependent? – elevation of either of David Miller or JP Duminy to four, Van der Dussen will be the custodian of a role previously, at World Cups, occupied for the most part by altogether more recognisable and international-proven figures at the time like AB de Villiers (2015 and 2011), Herschelle Gibbs (2007) … or Jacques Kallis the last and only time South Africa have hosted it, in 2003.
There will be some obvious risk involved, if so.
For one thing, Van der Dussen, although a seasoned figure in domestic cricket at age 30, is really still cutting his teeth at the premier level, having only made his SA debuts, both in ODIs and Twenty20 fare, this season and exclusively in home-staged contests.
He has played nine ODIs and seven T20 internationals, and across those games only Zimbabwe (not playing at CWC 2019), Pakistan and Sri Lanka are directly “in the know” about the tall, composed right-hander.
All other foes at the English and Welsh-staged event will have no prior experience of being able to make mental notes from the heat of bilateral battle about the longtime Lions-based player.
Even in domestic-level terms, Van der Dussen is not yet notably well-travelled, having been overlooked (or at least not chosen to probe opportunities yet) for county cricket, for example, thus far.
That could be viewed as an additional drawback, of course: most of his Proteas batting colleagues have either had knowledge-building stints within English cricket or at least played a decent number of international matches on that soil to appreciate the special challenges – including profoundly variable conditions from one match to another -- of playing there.
Van der Dussen’s CV at this stage primarily shows exploits on our own turf, although he did have a spell a few months ago in the Caribbean Premier League, for what it is worth, with the St Kitts & Nevis Patriots.
In many ways, then, he is going to be a wildcard for South Africa at the World Cup: we simply don’t know whether his game is going to be suited to the demands of venues like The Oval (where SA open their account in a humdinger against England themselves on May 30), Edgbaston and Old Trafford.
An awful lot of Van der Dussen’s runs, at various levels of competition, have come on markedly differing Highveld pitches.
On the plus side, though, he looks like one of the more demure, intelligent and potentially adaptable figures you will see in the international game, with a rounded arsenal of strokes and decent technique: he is unlikely to be too perturbed by his greenness when it comes to the UK, and it is also expected that – good weather permitting – plenty of the CWC strips should be relative belters that take quite a bit of local acumen out of the equation anyway.
What his impressive Proteas exposure in 2018/19 has done, too, is confirm his willingness to knuckle down diligently to a white-ball innings, before gradually cranking up his strike rate to a pleasing, rocket-like crescendo.
“Rassie who?”: If that chirp happens to be directed at him by heavyweight opponents during the World Cup, there is at least a fighting chance that they may learn more about him pretty quickly … and the hard way.
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