Eighteen months ago, when Roelof van der Merwe decided to stop late-night partying — after consulting his father — and focus on cricket, the allrounder was in the amateur team of the Northerns Cricket Union’s Nashua Titans.
After making rapid strides with the main team, he found himself in the South Africa side in March, winning the Man-of-the-Match award on his T20 debut against Australia.
“Everything happened very quickly,” Van der Merwe told HT. “I was lucky to be seen quickly. It doesn’t happen everyday that you get into sides as quickly. All I need to do is keep up the performance and stay selected,” he said.
Acting on the advice of coach Ray Jennings, the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) roped him in this year. Did he have second thoughts before signing for a side that finished seventh in IPL-I? “No, it was always a major thing to get into the squad, even if I was not playing in the games. It is good playing for them,” the 24-year-old said.
Van der Merwe has been a vital part of RCB. In six matches, he has taken six wickets, been electric on the field and taken some stunning catches besides contributing with the bat lower in the order.
The presence of South Africans in the RCB squad ensured he did not feel out of place. “I have played a few ODIs and T20s for SA with Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher, Dale Steyn. To have a few familiar faces helps.”
Captain Anil Kumble has been a great help. “I have learnt a lot from Kumble. As a spinner, he gives you the options where to bowl, when you could get hit,” he said.
On the qualities needed to succeed in T20, he said: “Taking pace off the ball is important, even for seamers, as is variation.”
In June last, he was among seven upcoming spinners Cricket South Africa had identified for a training camp with the Global School of Cricket in Mohali. “The trip helped me a lot. The pitches in India suit the spinners. The IPL offers good future for spin bowling,” he said. Elise Lombard, CEO of the Northerns Cricket Union, said: “Roelof is hungry to make it at the top level. He exudes enthusiasm.”
Nicknamed ‘Bulldog’ for his never-say-die attitude, Van der Merwe said the IPL experience would help immensely.