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HomeCricketUndeterred by World Cup snub, Rilee Rossouw fashions simple ‘see the ball,...

Undeterred by World Cup snub, Rilee Rossouw fashions simple ‘see the ball, hit the ball’ approach to ride modern T20 wave


“Well, looking at how things are, I’m glad I’m indoors, mate. I wouldn’t dare step out now,” says Rilee Rossouw after choosing to skip the Punjab Kings’ (PBKS) optional afternoon training session on the eve of its Indian Premier League match against the Rajasthan Royals.

It was 15 minutes past 4pm and outside, the sun was beating down mercilessly on the languorous yet oddly crowded metropolis of Guwahati. The Bloemfontein-born cricketer, nestled in a beige velveteen couch inside his luxury air-conditioned hotel room, was at his cheery best as he flashed the most disarming smile after every other sentence. It’s one of Rossouw’s little idiosyncrasies when interacting with the media.

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What went wrong for PBKS

The conversation carried a relaxed ambience as Rossouw carefully analysed what may have gone wrong in PBKS’ IPL 2024 campaign. “It hasn’t been the season we wanted. We’ve come so close in a number of games, but unfortunately, we couldn’t cross that line. I think it was about four or five games where we finished in the last over. There’s definitely been a lot of learnings. It’s (The elimination is) going to hurt.”

The interaction is briefly interrupted as the ACA Stadium janitor barges into the press box and his voice is all that the South African hears for about the next five seconds on the virtual meeting platform. Upon realising his mistake, the young chap murmurs a hurried apology before heading out.

Rossouw continues, “I feel like the loss of the senior-most player, our captain, Shikhar Dhawan, to injury definitely had an impact on us as a franchise. But then again, we’ve played really good cricket at times. Those four or five close games that we lost, if we could change that around, we would have been talking about maybe finishing in the top two now.”

Rossouw has been a cricketing gypsy his whole life, something he would tell you he has thoroughly enjoyed. One of his exploits did come with its fair share of controversies, but he’s let bygones be bygones.

Rilee Rossouw (R) celebrates his fifty as Shashank Singh looks on during the Indian Premier League match between Punjab Kings and Royal Challengers Bengaluru.

Rilee Rossouw (R) celebrates his fifty as Shashank Singh looks on during the Indian Premier League match between Punjab Kings and Royal Challengers Bengaluru.
| Photo Credit:
AP

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Rilee Rossouw (R) celebrates his fifty as Shashank Singh looks on during the Indian Premier League match between Punjab Kings and Royal Challengers Bengaluru.
| Photo Credit:
AP

Cricket writer Matt Roller had laced his words with humour when he wrote about Rossouw’s infamous Kolpak deal: “It was January 2017 when Rossouw decided not only to burn every bridge with Cricket South Africa, but to pour on a gallon of petrol, tuck the extinguisher under his arm and direct the fire brigade away from the blaze.” One person who surely wouldn’t have found this funny was Russell Domingo, whose name Rossouw had misspelt on the email that was meant to inform the then-South Africa coach about his decision to sign a contract with Hampshire!

The World Cup snub

However, years have rolled since then. After Brexit, Rossouw moved on to impress at multiple T20 leagues and the South African domestic circuit. To the extent that the selectors’ hands were forced to call him back into the national side five years later for the England series in July 2022.

He announced his arrival with back-to-back T20I centuries against India and Bangladesh, alongside an unbeaten 96 versus Jos Buttler’s England, in the first seven innings. The ton against the Bangla Tigers, in fact, was the first hundred of the 2022 T20 World Cup. However, less than two years later, in the upcoming iteration of the T20 extravaganza, South Africa, which incidentally has played only five T20Is in the past year, has decided to look past him.

“At my maturity, where I am right now… obviously, I’m disappointed, but it’s not going to knock me down because I’ve done so much in my career. It’s not my ‘be-all, end-all’ to represent South Africa in the World Cup. Though, I would love to. I thought I’d put in some serious performances leading up to it, but unfortunately, the selectors, coach and captain probably wanted to go a different direction. I can’t argue with that. If they see it that way, so be it.”

The modern game

Rossouw last played a T20I in March last year. He had scored 42 off 21 balls against the West Indies but the Proteas lost the game by seven runs. Even in this short duration, T20 cricket has evolved by leaps and bounds.

On being asked whether his thoughts align with the idea of more slam-bang cricket, as is being seen in the IPL with 200-plus runs being scored every other day, or he would love a more evenly-contested affair between the batters and bowlers, he said, “I think the approach of the batter this year has been a fearless one, especially with the Impact Substitution rule. I think that it does make a bit of a difference. Not much. We have seen this year that the wickets are good. It’s not a case that I want to see a bit more evenly-matched (contest). I think it is still very evenly-matched. I mean, they brought in the rule where the bowlers can bowl two bouncers an over. So you’ve got to get that—the pace and that fearlessness of bowling that second bouncer where we’ve seen a guy like Gerald Coetzee taking a lot of wickets with the shorter ball. It’s about executing your skills. If you take away that impact player, I think it will be more fairly suited to both sides. If I had a choice, I would take it away.”

Rossouw additionally believes that some bowlers in the shortest format lack vision. “Some, not all, bowlers have been left behind because the best are not always wanting to do better. They are not thinking ahead. They need to execute and plan to stop the batters from taking the game forward.”

The PBKS batter had stitched together 64 runs for the second wicket with Jonny Bairstow, which eventually helped his side floor the Chennai Super Kings at Chepauk. It was after this game that Rossouw coined the ‘See ball, hit ball’ approach. When asked whether he is one who would still love to get his eye in once at the crease and react according to match situations or go after the ball from the get go, Rossouw said, “When I talk about ‘see ball, hit ball’, it is just about keeping it simple. It’s not a figure of speech where you literally go whack every single ball that you see. Watch the ball and play it on its merit. But you should also retain that positive approach that if it’s in my area, it needs to go for a six.”

Rilee Rossouw celebrates after scoring a century during the T20 World Cup match between South Africa and Bangladesh.

Rilee Rossouw celebrates after scoring a century during the T20 World Cup match between South Africa and Bangladesh.
| Photo Credit:
AP

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Rilee Rossouw celebrates after scoring a century during the T20 World Cup match between South Africa and Bangladesh.
| Photo Credit:
AP

Although he has featured in every major cricketing league, namely the Big Bash, Major League Cricket, Pakistan Super League, Lanka Premier League, Abu Dhabi T10 League, Bangladesh Premier League, Caribbean Premier League and SA20, Rossouw’s heart beats for the IPL. “The IPL is probably the most iconic T20 league in the world. It’s the biggest. It’s definitely the one that’s the most well supported. There’s not a lot that the IPL can take from other leagues because it’s doing everything so well. It’s just phenomenal. I think IPL stands alone when it comes to T20 leagues.”

Has the T20 philosophy become such that a batter is expected to score in every game now? “That’s not going to happen unless you’re Virat Kohli,” pat comes the reply as Rossouw grins from ear to ear.

ALSO READ | PBKS seeks new captain as Sam Curran set to fly to England after RR clash

Advent of franchise cricket

“But you would want to make an impact as much as you can in every single match. Doesn’t matter if you’re just facing five balls and scoring ten runs. As long as that strike-rate’s nice and high and you’re making an impact on the game,” he continued.

More and more cricketers, lately, have been prioritising leagues over international cricket for financial reasons and cramped calendars. New Zealand’s Trent Boult and South Africa’s Quinton de Kock are two of the most popular names in that mix. Cricket South Africa itself sent a second-string side to New Zealand for a two-Test tour, while committing its first-side players to SA20. There have been numerous debates over whether this is taking the sport in the right direction, but Rossouw says in this scenario he would love to flick an idea or two from how the global football (soccer) calendar is run.

“At the end of the day, playing international cricket is still the goal. Whether it be cricket, rugby, soccer or any other sport, playing for your country is your biggest honour. It’s a way of finding that balance of playing international and playing T20 where I feel like football, for instance, does it really well where they have their set scheduled leagues and then they have the international breaks. So, I think if cricket can evolve into something like that, we won’t even have this conversation.

“The money makes a big difference too because at the end of the day, I’ve got to put bread and milk on my table back home and how am I going to do that? It’s a job, after all.”



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