Johannesburg — It will be another nine months before Rassie van der Dussen’s left forefinger functions properly again. But for now he can bat, and as far as the Proteas are concerned, that is all that matters.
Van Der Dussen had his first serious innings in almost three months on Thursday, spending around two hours at the crease in Potchefstroom, to score 45 for the DP World (Gauteng) Lions in their Four-Day Series clash with the North West Dragons.
Van der Dussen injured the finger while fielding during the second Test against England in Manchester. The knuckle was effectively shattered when struck by the ball and he still can’t straighten it, but it’s good enough to bat. “I was expecting a lot more pain and discomfort, but it actually went Okay,” he said of the training sessions against the Lions attack.
He showed no signs of discomfort at the JB Marks Oval, and was probably tested more by his teammates at training than anything he faced from the Dragons on a placid pitch.
His first runs came via a boundary off a short wide ball, while there were a few pull shots when the home team’s bowlers dropped their lengths. Van der Dussen couldn’t have hoped for an easier outing on his return and he was probably feeling a little bit too comfortable when he loosely drove at a half volley from Renaldo Meyer which he edged through to the wicketkeeper shortly after lunch.
For Van der Dussen the next few weeks provide crucial game time to get into the right mental state for the three match Test series against Australia. “You have to prepare almost for the worst in terms of pressure, skill, abuse and all those lovely things Australia brings,” he explained. “The next two or three weeks, the aim is to really get out of my comfort zone and make sure the training is harder than (playing) is out there.”
Van der Dussen knows he and the batting unit have underperformed in the last year, but cites mitigating circumstances. “If you look at numbers, it's probably been inconsistent and not where we want it to be, we haven’t scored enough hundreds and our averages aren’t what some of the other country’s players’ are. But if you look at the last two years, the conditions that we have played in have been really tough, and I think we must see it in context.”
Listing the series that the Proteas have played in the last 15 months, Van der Dussen said all the surfaces used were tricky and the opposition bowlers were of such high quality that scoring runs was never easy. “While not looking for excuses, the conditions in the last two years (were tough) and if you assess a situation you must look at it in context. I think actually we’ve done alright. Our position on the (World Test Championship) log says we’ve done Okay.”
South Africa is in second place behind Australia on the WTC table and a series win next month will go a long way towards securing them a spot in the final next year.
Besides Van der Dussen’s return, Dean Elgar’s century for the Multiply Titans at SuperSport Park on Thursday would also have eased some of interim coach Malibongwe Maketa’s concerns. The Proteas Test captain also had a difficult tour to England, and needed time at the crease to regain some form and confidence. He had to survive initially against aggressive bowling from the Knights’ Gerald Coetzee — who will be a teammate in Australia — and Migael Pretorius, but on a pitch with good pace and bounce v like he’ll find Down Under — he played a pleasing innings and was eventually dismissed for 137 — the 45th century of his first class career.
Elgar and Van der Dussen know their experience will be vital in turning around the fortunes of the maligned batting unit. “If you look at the batting line-up, at this stage in our careers; Dean, Sarel (Erwee), myself, Theunis (de Bruyn) and (Heinrich) Klaasen, they’ve been around the block and played domestic cricket for 10-12 years. Trust me, domestic cricket in SA is tough, you bat at places like the Wanderers. When you are under pressure your character comes out, and that is probably what will happen in Australia,” said Van der Dussen.