Van der Merwe targets South Africa recall
When an image of the archetypical South African cricketer is conjured up, it must look a little like Roelof van der Merwe .
A fighter on the field so tenacious he earned the nickname Bulldog, van der Merwe relied more on aggression than ability to make his name. Operating as a left-arm spinner at a time when South African cricket still saw slower bowling as a stopgap rather than a wicket-taking option, perhaps he had to. It helped that he could hit the ball hard and his all-round ability saw him spend 15 fairly nondescript months in the national team.
He was dropped after the West Indies tour in 2010 and not turned to after that as Johan Botha and now Robin Peterson made the limited-overs role their own. Since then, van der Merwe has been running his own race. He has played some IPL, some Big Bash League, some cricket in England and been turning in performance after performance for Titans in the hope of earning a recall. Botha's time with South Africa has all but ended as he has relocated to Australia and there could be an opening for van der Merwe to take.
"I hope to stake a claim for national honours again now, especially since I feel I have more control over my bowling than ever before," van der Merwe said. "I'd love to play for South Africa again and hopefully the right people will notice when we do well as a team."
Titans announced themselves in the Champions League T20 with a 39-run victory over Perth Scorchers at their fortress in Centurion. It was a match where their batsmen stole headlines but van der Merwe's three overs only cost 13 runs and he took a wicket.
They are at another favourite ground for their second match against Auckland. Titans have done well in Durban, which was also the place where they won the domestic 20-over competition in 2008 - a victory that saw them qualify for the first CLT20 which was cancelled after the Mumbai bombings.
Although Kingsmead is not Titans' home ground, it will be more familiar to them than Auckland and van der Merwe said they are looking forward to the Kingsmead crowd getting behind them. "We like this venue. I don't think we've lost here many times in the last five years," he boasted.
Auckland have already beaten the champions of three countries - Pakistan, England and India - and are not likely to be scared by another. But van der Merwe sounded a warning that Titans may have worked them out. "They are a side that can be in trouble very quickly with their batting order," he said. "If we take a few wickets upfront, we'll be in with a good chance. If you look at the qualifying games, teams that lost two or three wickets in the first six overs, lost the game."
Gareth Hopkins' side may see a similar weakness in Titans. Only their opening batsmen had a decent run in the first match with Henry Davids scoring 54 and Jacques Rudolph an unbeaten 83 but the middle order are untested in this competition. van der Merwe said they have identified that as a possible area of concern and made plans to counter it.
"It's hard when you come in towards the end and you've been watching guys hit it all over for 17 overs and you've got a few balls to face towards the end," he said. "The guys coming in at the end also need time to get in. It's not that easy hitting it out the ground from ball one."
A player like van der Merwe is thought of as the kind that can lash out from the get-go but he said he will not be slogging indiscriminately even though he is playing in a finisher's position. "My role is a bit different when it comes to batting. Even though I am down the order, not at No 3 like I was before, when I am needed at No 7, it's going to be vital that I put a score together at that end. Jacques Rudolph showed it in our first game you don't just have to slog. He didn't just hit the ball out the park; he used the space in the field well."
To show that he can structure an innings may help van der Merwe catch the national selectors' eyes, as the South African limited-overs middle order is still searching for stability. They have tried to use specialist batsmen to rotate in those positions but have not found the right combination and could go back to picking allrounders, the bread and butter of South African cricket, like van der Merwe.
For now, he has other things on his mind - like beating Auckland. Already he has identified one similarity between them and himself: both are prototypes of their country's playing styles. "They are a classic example of a New Zealand team," van der Merwe said. "They are not a very pretty side, they don't play pretty at all, but it's effective. I think that's a good way to play your cricket. That's also how I play. "
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent