Rassie van der Dussen revelled in a "dream come true" after setting up South Africa's 34-run win over Zimbabwe in East London with a fifty on T20I debut.

"It was pretty close to perfect - a fifty on debut, and to top it off the team winning, which is obviously the most important thing," he said. "It's a dream come true for me. Couldn't be happier."

Van der Dussen arrived at the crease with South Africa teetering at 11 for 2, but shrugged off the pressure applied by Zimbabwe with stands of 41 with captain Faf du Plessis and 87 with David Miller. He eventually fell for a 44-ball 56, but he had helped set up a defendable total of 160 for 6.

The 29-year-old has worked hard to make his dream a reality. He was the leading run-scorer in last season's four-day competition, helped the Vancouver Knights to the 2018 Global T20 Canada title, and secured a contract with St Kitts and Nevis Patriots in the Caribbean Premier League. In between, he was also called up for South Africa A's trip to India in August.

"It has definitely helped my game," van der Dussen said of playing in the various T20 leagues around the world. "You come up against some of the best teams in the world in these tournaments. Doing well there gave me the confidence to know that I can perform at that level. This is international cricket. It is a new stage with extra pressure but also with a lot of privilege. It gave me confidence to come out and play my game."

Van der Dussen is highly likely to have another crack in the second T20 in Potchefstroom on Friday, and is hoping he can continue to build on his strong start as he gains experience of the Zimbabwe attack. "As a player, you always have to try to learn and adapt," he said. "You want to get better every day. I came up against Zimbabwe's bowlers for the first time, so going into the next few games I will reassess and see where I went wrong and where I can do better. Hopefully, I can emulate what I did here in the last two games."

Senwes Park is a former home ground for van der Dussen, who played for North West before moving to the Lions, and with his local knowledge, he expects the Highveld conditions to produce high-scoring pitches.

"Spin won't be as effective on the Highveld," he said. "We might have some high-scoring games if the wickets are like they usually are in Potch and Benoni. As a batter, your scoring areas and tactics change a bit, especially against spin. I can see some big totals if we get good wickets."

Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town