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Emotional Rilee Rossouw says his Proteas return was no ‘free shot’

Proteas batter Rilee Rossouw celebrates his half century against England. Photo: James Marsh/Shutterstock/BackpagePix

Proteas batter Rilee Rossouw celebrates his half century against England. Photo: James Marsh/Shutterstock/BackpagePix

Published Jul 30, 2022

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Cape Town - “Representing your country is the proudest thing anyone can do and today was emotional for me.”

These are the passionate words every fan wants to hear. A statement that pulls at the heartstrings of loyalty.

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But they were from Rilee Rossouw, a young man who turned his back on South Africa in the prime of his international career to pursue a Kolpak and later mercenary globe-trotting jaunt as a “gun-for-hire”.

For a batter blessed with an abundance of gifts it was a lucrative option. But it’s legacy that separates the greats from the mere mortals. And that reputation is only forged at the highest level and not in the Shires of England.

In his heart of hearts, Rossouw knows that. He admits “international cricket is the ultimate”. Growing up in Bloemfontein, he would only have dreamt of playing for the Proteas.

Not Hampshire, Somerset, Basnahira Cricket Dundee, Dambulla Giants, Khulna Tigers, Melbourne Renegades, Multan Sultans, Royal Challengers Bangalore or the Quetta Gladiators.

It is why this second coming is so special to him. And also why his actions on that fateful day in January 2017 need to be consigned to the recklessness of youth.

Former national team coach Russell Domingo may never forgive Rossouw for spelling his name wrong in his departure email, but there’s no running away from the fact that the Proteas are a stronger T20 unit with the 32-year-old back in their ranks.

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Professional sport is about winning. And Rossouw gives South Africa a better chance of achieving that. That’s all that matters in a World Cup year.

He brings a dynamism at the top of the order that was far too heavily dependent on Quinton de Kock since the departures of AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis.

Rossouw possesses “X-factor”, which puts bowlers under pressure before they even start their run-up. It was on full display in Cardiff where he shrugged off a disappointing return the day before with an undefeated 96 to help the Proteas level the series.

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“Unfortunately things didn’t go my way in the first T20. Probably a bit over-confident with the amount of runs I’ve scored in England. I had to take my time, played a little bit more sensibly, but once I found the pace of the wicket, it became a lot easier. And that’s when I once again went back into the confident mode of trying to hit boundaries and trying to put the team into a good position,” said Rossouw after the 57-run victory on Thursday.

But does he fully realise just how fortunate he is to have another crack at pulling on the Proteas jumper after giving everyone at Cricket SA the proverbial middle finger?

“I am grateful for where I am right now. To put in a performance like that for your country is really special for me – very emotional, and very proud,” Rossouw said.

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“I don’t see it as a free shot. I’ve got six years of experience around the world, playing in different competitions. I do feel like I’m a much better player than I once was. I’ve put in some really good performances and the management has backed me and selected me.”

With a two-match series against Ireland and a Test series against England still to come on this UK tour, the selectors have opted to rest all-format batters Rassie van der Dussen and Aiden Markram at Bristol and Cardiff.

Markram is ranked third and Van der Dussen 10th on the ICC T20I rankings card and will surely be on the plane to Australia in October.

The emergence of exciting young talent Tristan Stubbs had added depth to the middle order, while Reeza Hendricks is in the midst of a purple run patch. And captain Temba Bavuma is working hard to fix his injured elbow to be fit for the trip Down Under.

So, does Rossouw, who was part of the 2016 T20 World Cup squad and played a pivotal role in the epic 2015 World Cup semi-final in Auckland, believe he will have another crack at a global tournament?

“You have to have self-belief first before someone else can see it,” he said. “Everyone wants to play to win a trophy. From what I’ve seen and heard, the Proteas have had a great last year and a half, and obviously it’s about building on that momentum into the World Cup.

“I do believe in my ability to not necessarily win the World Cup by myself because that’s impossible. But to put in a performance to help my team.”

And should Rossouw play a part in bringing home the elusive holy grail, then maybe even Domingo may finally have to grant him amnesty.

@ZaahierAdams

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