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Rassie van der Dussen epitomises 'up for it' South Africa in impressive opening victory

Focused build-up to series pays dividends as England are caught cold on hottest day

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Adil Rashid expresses contrasting emotions to those of Janneman Malan and Rassie van der Dussen  •  AFP/Getty Images

Adil Rashid expresses contrasting emotions to those of Janneman Malan and Rassie van der Dussen  •  AFP/Getty Images

South Africa "were a bit more up for it" in the opening match of their all-format tour, according to Rassie van der Dussen, as they outplayed an overworked England on a scorching day in Durham.
With international schedules in the spotlight, not least because of Ben Stokes' ODI retirement, it did not go unnoticed that the two teams' journeys to this series were vastly different. South Africa have played only five T20Is since mid-April while England have played six white-ball matches in the first 17 days of this month alone, and lost four of them. Van der Dussen cited the hosts' packed schedule as a possible reason for their big defeat, but also praised the way South Africa prepared ahead of the series and adapted to conditions on the day.
"They [England] are all match-winners on their day. They've been playing a lot of cricket. We could see that today. It was obviously very hot but it just looked like we were a bit more up for it," van der Dussen said afterwards.
Although he emphasised that South Africa did not find the weather too bad after their recent tour of India "which was much worse", he acknowledged that "it was a good toss to win," because it meant England got the worst of the heat.
On a big outfield, and in the knowledge that the opposition bowlers would tire, South Africa focused on accumulation rather than boundary hitting, and did not hit a single six in their innings in an innings reminiscent of ODIs of old. "We've done a lot of conditioning work and it's part of our game-plan to hit space and run hard and make sure we get runs off good balls," van der Dussen said.
But they wouldn't have been able to do that without some practice. "We came here quite early - ten days ago - because we knew we had to prepare well," he added. "It's a long tour with a lot of cricket still left to play. We played two warm-up games and got used to the conditions.
Playing tour matches ahead of series proper has not been part of South Africa's reality since before the Covid-19 pandemic. That cost them severely in New Zealand in February, where they lost the first Test by an innings and 276 runs after coming out of quarantine, but acclimatised to win the second by 198 runs and draw the series. Now that travel is normalising, South Africa are returning to a more old-school way of touring, and are fortunate their calendar allowed them the time to do that.
In van der Dussen's case, it's also paid off personally, as he continues to enjoy a rich vein of ODI form that has resulted in three hundreds in his last 14 innings. This was his career-best performance and while it wasn't flashy, it underlined his worth as a batter who can hold an innings together and anchor a big total. "When I go in, I try to read the situation of the game and plan my innings accordingly," van der Dussen said. "I try to adapt and have the options and shots to try and put bowlers under pressure regardless of the situation."
He has been particularly successful with the reverse-sweep, shots down the ground and strike rotation, which were all part of his approach in Durham. "There wasn't a lot of bounce in the wicket so I knew if they went short, you can try and negate that but you've got to play straight. That was the general game-plan," he said. 'With England's batting line-up as it is, you know you need to put a good score on. We knew we had to keep the intensity up, keep the body language up and keep looking to score."
South Africa did that and ended up "setting the tone" for what van der Dussen hopes will be a successful culmination of their efforts in training over the last few months.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent