Cape Town – “There is always noise.”
That’s Rassie van der Dussen’s assertion about South African cricket.
It’s hard to fault Van der Dussen. His international career began with the cloud of AB de Villiers’ possible comeback hanging over the Proteas team at the 2019 World Cup.
The next few years were caught up in the midst of former coach Mark Boucher’s on-going alleged racism allegations. He was called up to make sense of Quinton de Kock’s nonsensical decision to withdraw from a T20 World Cup match against the West Indies in Dubai after being instructed to take the knee.
And now four years later, ahead of another World Cup, there is the constant chatter about former Proteas legend Faf du Plessis’ comeback to the national team.
Does it ever stop?
“Whether it's World Cups, choking, qualifying, whatever it might be; there is always noise,” Van der Dussen told Independent Media in an exclusive interview.
“I would be lying to say it doesn’t have an effect. Back then it was AB; of course you feel that if he comes back, who’s going to miss out?
“But growing up in South Africa we’ve just learnt to live with it. There is no sense in trying to run away from it. It’s just part of being within the South African cricket set-up. You just have to make peace with it and move on.
“My attitude has always been that if I’m putting in the work, playing the way I can play, if I am conditioned from a physical aspect, then I’ll be in the team and it doesn’t really matter what anyone else is doing.”
At the moment though Van der Dussen finds himself on the outskirts of the Proteas Test and T20 side. His numbers dictate – Van der Dussen averages 60.58 – that he remains an integral part of the Proteas ODI team heading to the World Cup in India later this year.
But it is undoubtedly a strange situation for the 34-year-old to comprehend that, within a space of a couple of months, he has gone from being part of the Proteas backbone across all formats under the previous coaching regime to looking on from the outside.
An untimely finger injury on last year’s tour of England, which forced Van der Dussen to miss the T20 World Cup in Australia, further compounded matters.
“It felt like a stop-start season,” Van der Dussen explained. “I went to England, probably had, apart from the Tests, a really good tour there. Got injured during the second Test in Manchester, which gave me a lot of time on the sidelines. I think about eight to nine weeks, after surgery, and spent a lot of time in rehab.
“I went straight into two red-ball games for the Lions, and then off to Australia for the Test tour. I played one match, in Brisbane, on a pretty bad wicket. Another two-day Test for us! And then I got left out after that, which I thought was pretty harsh. So, after a really tough tour came straight into SA20, started off slowly, and then did a bit better towards the back end, with the England series in between.
“It was a strange season in many ways. I’ve been lucky throughout my career not to have many injuries, so to get injured there, missing the (T20) World Cup was a big blow for me.
“And then the change of management, I just found myself on the outskirts of the T20 side. The challenge now is for me to get back to my best, and force my way back into the team.”
After honest conversations with new Test coach Shukri Conrad the past summer about his red-ball future, Van der Dussen concedes that his 18-match career has more than likely run its race.
“I’ve probably done okay without nailing my spot down I suppose. I had a fair run, so for the guys coming in, they should also get a fair run.
“With the little amount of Tests that we do play, that might take a year or two, and by that time I would be 36! A lot has to happen for me to get back into the Test squad,” Van der Dussen conceded.
Unlike many of his modern-day contemporaries, Van der Dussen is not yet committing to playing only white-ball cricket, even though he’s regularly been part of the IPL, PSL, CPL and SA20 the past few years.
For now though he’s focused primarily on getting into the best physical shape and improving on the "one-percenters" with new Proteas white-ball batting coach JP Duminy for a season that is punctuated with a World Cup in India in October.
Considering the challenges the Proteas encountered to qualify automatically – they finished in the last remaining place on the ICC Super League table – the expectations for Rob Walter’s team are nowhere near those of previous years.
“Look… none of us thought that we were ever not going to qualify. It’s a strange feeling that somehow we will scrape in and it ended up that way,” Van der Dussen said.
“We are always running. We have every reason to feel confident. We have a world-class team with every base covered. We have a very versatile squad, and even the guys missing out can fill certain roles.
“I think we will go there as underdogs, but that doesn’t change anything. We go there as a passionate and proud cricketing nation. We are going to win a World Cup at some stage. The law of averages tells you that. When that is, we don't know, but it might as well be in November.”