van Jaarsveld wants to be the finisher for SA
If you look at the celebratory image of South Africa's dressing room after their memorable Melbourne triumph in December 2008, you probably won't recognise the dark-haired youngster on the outside of the huddle. He was the one holding the video camera while the likes of Graeme Smith, Makhaya Ntini and Mark Boucher smothered each other with man-hugs.
Vaughn van Jaarsveld did not play any role in that historic Test series but he was there. He was 23 then, included in the ODI squad and allowed to tag along beforehand to experience the environment of a Test tour. "It was awe-inspiring just to be there and feel the vibe of the team," van Jaarsveld told ESPNcricinfo. "It's something any youngster would want to be part of."
That summer, he made two ODI and three Twenty20 appearances, scoring a scant 24 runs in all and then disappeared. To the international audience, he would remain the boy with the video camera who stood keenly observing a team celebrating greatness, hoping one day he would be able to stand in the circle, not on its perimeter.
The day may be approaching soon. van Jaarsveld is one of 28 players who will attend the first national training camp conducted under Gary Kirsten's watch which starts next Monday. The squad selected for the gathering is an indication of the pool that Kirsten will look to select national teams from and van Jaarsveld's inclusion implies that he is in the fray.
With a first-class average of 40.53 and a List A average of 34.06, the numbers justify his selection, but in reality van Jaarsveld has not lived up to potential, by his own admission. While always performing admirably in domestic competition resulting in selection for numerous A tours, van Jaarseld has failed to use them as a stepping stone to bigger honours.
He has played against touring teams from every Test-playing nation, giving respectable accounts of himself from the unbeaten 49 against the West Indians in 2003 to the 52 he scored against the Indians in 2006 but was unable to convert those into big, noticeable hundreds.
"I felt I needed some extra edge," he said. So, midway through the 2010-11 season he left the Lions franchise in his home province of Gauteng to join the Durban-based Dolphins franchise and that's where he believes his turnaround started. "Working with Graham Ford was high on my list because I wanted to improve my game in all aspects."
A truncated season, because of the mid-season move, saw van Jaarsveld play just four first-class matches for the Dolphins, in which he scored 233 runs. His seven one-day games yielded just 154 and the same number of Twenty20s yielded 177. While the runs haven't poured just yet, he describes his time in Durban as a maturing phase and the biggest period of discovery in his career so far. "In the last 10 months, I have learnt so much about my technique and how to use it in different match situations."
van Jaarsveld made his name as one of the hardest and most aggressive young cricketers on the circuit, the kind that will scare the ball to the boundary just by looking at it, but he has learnt to tame that. "I've still got that attacking mindset but I have learnt to control it a lot better than I was younger."
The new-found maturity almost slipped past the national selectors and van Jaarsveld was initially left out of the A side to play in a tri-series in Zimbabwe in June. Morne van Wyk's unavailability opened a gap for him. "I was surprised to go to Zimbabwe but it was a blessing in disguise. We were there with Vincent Barnes and Allan Donald and Vinnie would tell us stories of the national team. It was great to hear what we can achieve."
Even better than the fireside tales was the talk that the South African team will be shaken up. "They made it clear to us that there are going to be spaces opening up and opportunities being given to players who perform." Although the South African Test side appears a settled lot, the limited-overs teams are in the process of being firmed up, with the middle order a particularly tricky area.
It is there where van Jaarsveld believes he can slot in, and the term he used will strike a chord with South African fans yearning for the days of Lance Klusener. "I want to be the finisher," he said. With the World Cup another example of how South Africa can benefit from, not necessarily a big-hitter in the middle, but a confident one, the time for van Jaarsveld to prove his worth has never been more fitting.
He also brings with him a bit of added value that cannot be overlooked. It's a little-known fact but van Jaarsveld has donned the wicketkeeping gloves in the past, during the pro20 campaign for the Lions a few seasons ago. While he is by no means a specialist keeper and has not played in that role since joining the Dolphins, it would be a handy factoid for the South African coaching staff to keep in mind, if they want to relieve AB de Villiers of the wicket-keeping duties in the twenty-over format.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent