The last time Rassie van der Dussen was in Bengaluru, in August 2018, he was part of the South Africa A side and was mistaken for wicketkeeper-batsman Rudi Second at the post-match press conference. Since then, van der Dussen has established himself as a T20 globetrotter and a key member of South Africa's limited-overs set-up. The new South Africa vice-captain speaks to ESPNcricinfo about his long wait before breaking into the national team, and the road ahead for the T20 World Cup next year
Following the World Cup, you've been appointed South Africa's vice-captain. You are also part of the leadership group at the Lions. How do you handle this extra responsibility?
I made my international debut late in my career, but it has been good for me. I've come into the team and I know my game, which has helped me adapt to international cricket. Leadership is something that comes naturally to me, I suppose. I always think on the field and think about communicating to the bowlers. A lot of the bowlers here - like Beuran Hendricks and Kagiso Rabada - they play with me domestically back home.
I know what these guys think and what their plans are. I know what their strengths and weaknesses are, so that helps me on the field to know what they are thinking under pressure. Sometimes, it just takes one or two words for me to communicate with them and I know what they're going to do.
It has helped me in this vice-captaincy role, supporting Quinny [Quinton de Kock]. He's obviously very experienced and he has led from the front - he's that sort of a character and I think captaincy is going to bring more good things out of him.
"I was realistic of the fact that South Africa was a tough team to break into - Faf, AB, Hashim, Quinny were all there. I just made peace with the fact and just wanted to keep persevering and see what happens. If I was still in domestic cricket at 35-36 years of age, I would have still been pushing."
During the World Cup Faf du Plessis was impressed with your temperament and earmarked you as future captain. How was it to earn du Plessis' vote of confidence?
To hear someone like Faf - someone who has been a hero to me for so long - say something like that, it was unbelievable. It is an honour, but it also bestows the responsibility on me to not shy away from the extra responsibility. Even though I've just played for this team for just about a year, there's no reason why I'm not a senior batsman in this line-up and that's what I try to do.
In Mohali, it was disappointing for me to get out second ball there and us not getting across the line. But, we have another chance in Bengaluru and I really want to do it for my country and team, and level the series.
What was your immediate reaction after receiving the news that you had made it to South Africa's World Cup squad?
It was quite nerve-wracking because you never know what the selectors are going to go for. I was sitting at home with my wife Lara - and the selectors didn't tell us beforehand - and [we were] watching the squad being announced. The reason why they didn't tell us was because they were scared there might be some leak.
So I was waiting eagerly for my name and when it came up it was a massive, massive moment for me. Representing your country at the highest stage is an honour that not many people get in their lives. The excitement level peaked a bit but at the same time it came with responsibility, especially in the Proteas side where there are so many good players.
Lara was just jumping up and was very excited at the news, and straightaway my phone just got going. It's a special feeling when you realise that something for which you have worked hard all through your life is coming true. As a sportsman, you never know if it's going to happen, so you always push and it's also a feeling of gratitude I suppose.
Players like AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, and Quinton de Kock broke into the South Africa side fairly early in their careers, but you had to wait until 29. How difficult was that wait?
I think you are a product of circumstances and throughout my career I've always had a major drive to play for my country. I'm very patriotic and a proud South African. I've always been a glass half-full type of guy and always looked at positive side of things.
The wait didn't cloud my judgement, but by around April last year, I went to Vincent Barnes, who is our bowling coach on this trip to India. He was the head of CSA high performance at that stage and I sort of phoned him and asked if we could just have a meeting. And I went to him, and after that I was the leading run-scorer in the four-day competition.
What did Vincent Barnes tell you?
I just went to him and asked him if I was part of the plans going forward because I felt I was doing all that I can. But life isn't fair. It has never been fair and it never will be. He said to me I was in the plans and just told me to keep persevering.
After that meeting I had some clarity that they were looking at me, but I was realistic of the fact that South Africa was a tough team to break into - Faf, AB, Hashim, Quinny were all there. I just made peace with the fact and just wanted to keep persevering and see what happens. If I was still in domestic cricket at 35-36 years of age, I would have still been pushing. So I suppose I was fortunate and prevailed to get an opportunity.
Do you know that your ODI average is 73.77?
I mean I've played only 18 matches, but my wife Lara was a former international scorer and I'm sure she knows all the stats (chuckles). In one-day cricket, the middle-over situations tell you what to do. So I always play accordingly and know that if I'm there at the back end, I can capitalise like I did in the New Zealand game and the Australia game.
Then it becomes like a T20 game where you know your areas and try to maximise. For me it was all about coming in and adapting to the intensity of international cricket. The numbers will be what they will be, but I just want to contribute to a winning team. If I can do that, the numbers will take care of themselves.
"There are over 30,000 people watching you, there are Aussies around you throwing comments, and then there are guys bowling at 140kph. Then there's a scoreboard showing you have just 4 off 20 balls or something, it's a lot happening. You need to take in those extra seconds to think clearly and objectively and that's what I tried to do."
How has Justin Sammons (Lions' batting coach) helped improve your batting?
It's no secret that in the last three years that I've worked with Justin, I've done really well. He's the type of coach who looks at you individually and doesn't have set ideas in his mind. He works around your technique and looks at your strengths and builds on them.
For example, my set-up and trigger movement is a lot more technical in red-ball cricket - his eye is sensitive to these finest things. When it's off, he immediately tells me if my front foot is doing this or my hands push out wider.
You were initially a big-hitting top-order batsman at Lions, but later moved to the middle order. How have you managed to fit into different roles?
About three years ago, Reeza Hendricks, the current South Africa opener, was at the Knights and Lions signed him. Stephen Cook was our four-day opener and Reeza is one of the best openers I think there is in the world across formats. And coach Geoffrey (Toyana) and Justin came up to me and asked me to consider batting in the middle order as Reeza was signed as an opener. If that's what is needed to get into the team, I said I'll take on the challenge and will adapt.
I was ready to work on my rotation game and batting against spin; it's not just about clearing the ropes. That's where Justin came in and we spoke about game-plans in the middle overs. And batting in the middle order turned out to be a great move for me and it just shows you that in life things happen and you just have to be open-minded and try to adapt to the situation.
The middle-order gears were on display during the World Cup game against Australia. You were on 20 off 40 balls and then cranked it up to end with 95 off 97 balls
That was a vital innings for me. When I came in, Nathan Lyon was bowling really well. He didn't give any bad balls and (Pat) Cummins was bowling at the other end. I thought I was not able to get away. That's where Faf came in. He just told me to keep my intent up and stick to my game-plan and stay patient. He also told me when you get the ball in your area just capitalise on that.
The advice from du Plessis seems so very simple, but isn't it so very difficult to do against a formidable bowling attack in a World Cup?
There are over 30,000 people watching you, there are Aussies around you throwing comments, and then there are guys bowling at 140kph. Then there's a scoreboard showing you have just 4 off 20 balls or something, it's a lot happening. You need to take in those extra seconds to think clearly and objectively and that's what I tried to do.
Eventually, I just hit a six off Glenn Maxwell and got going. It showed me I can take some balls to get in, especially in 50-over cricket, and then catch up. I narrowly missed out on a hundred. If I had gotten a hundred there, it might have been a perfect innings; we won the game. I learnt a lot from that innings and also from Faf.
Did the AB de Villiers revelations at the World Cup affect you?
It didn't really affect me. When I heard the news, it came as a shock to us because we knew AB had retired. He is the best player South Africa has ever seen. We respect everything he has done for South Africa and he's a massive hero for all of us in the side, but the news did come as a shock.
Suddenly people were saying that's maybe the reason I was in the team. The thing that my dad told me after AB retired was: "At least one spot will open up and you can fight for it". I sort of looked at him and said "Yeah". I don't want to compare myself to AB, but I've had a lot of questions, especially from journalists, if I had replaced AB. I said "No". Nobody can replace AB, but I can play match-winning innings for my country by being a Rassie and not somebody else.
How have you fine-tuned your game against spin?
Spin is something you face a lot of when you play in the subcontinent and you have got to make a plan. I suppose you can get better at it by talking to guys who play spin well. Neil McKenzie is a very good player of spin and is a very good sweeper and reverse-sweeper. He uses his feet and he helped me a lot early in my career at Lions. Again, I try to challenge myself. You look at a guy like Virat (Kohli) - he keeps it really simple and to make it look simple at this level, there's a lot of hard work that goes into it. So, I just try to improve as I go.
With the T20 World Cup a little over a year away, how do you assess this talent pool?
The emphasis will be on T20 cricket and we have some really outstanding T20 players in this team. We do have the experience and whether it's the domestic experience or international, the fundamentals stay the same. And the MSL (Mzansi Super League) has been very helpful.
We have around 19 T20Is before the World Cup, we need to learn to play with each other. Myself and Temba [Bavuma] have batted a lot together at Lions, myself and Quinny have batted a lot together, but somebody like Dave (David Miller) and Temba haven't batted a lot together. So it's about gelling well as a team. That's going to the biggest thing going forward.
What's the next step forward for you on a personal front?
It is the T20 World Cup. Hopefully in the next 12 months I can keep performing and contribute to a winning team and build a positive culture under Enoch Nkwe (new team director); I've worked with him previously at Lions. He has brought in a fresh mentality and hopefully I can be there at the World Cup and play a big part there. You never know. Maybe this team can be part of history - something that South Africa haven't done before.