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Rilee Rossouw makes himself crucial to Riders' cause

At the start of BPL, it seemed Rossouw's role in the Rangpur Riders was to hold the fort for the bigger stars. His impactful innings have now made him nearly indispensable

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Rilee Rossouw reaches his century, Hampshire v Kent, Royal London Cup, Final, Lord's, June 30, 2018

Getty Images

In the most expensive, hand-picked side in this BPL edition, in a batting line-up that includes Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers and Alex Hales, it is Rilee Rossouw who has stood out, with a chart-topping run tally of 558 in 13 matches. His run tally is already a tournament record for most runs in a season, and his impact has come through well-paced knocks, which have made him indispensable for the Riders, even though he was expected to be dropped once AB de Villiers arrived after the first six games.
Now, heading into the second qualifier on Wednesday, he has become the Riders' most important player, with Hales and de Villiers absent and Gayle off-form. Dhaka Dynamites will consider Rossouw as the most prized wicket. In the first qualifier against Comilla Victorians his 44 helped the Riders out of a rut and gave them a competitive score although it wasn't enough in the end. His performance this season has been something of an underdog story: one of the lesser-known players taking over the limelight from the bigger stars in the dressing room.
The Riders fans would have been wary of the management's decision to acquire him as one of their outside-the-draft signings, after he had averaged only 20.77 in nine games for Khulna Titans in BPL 2017. His form this season, however, has been vastly different. His five fifties and century have been based on a pattern of scoring that has perfectly suited the need of every innings.
When the Riders have needed a quickfire start in chases, Rossouw has scored at a strike rate ranging from 180 to 310 within the first ten balls he has faced. While it is impossible to maintain that high a strike-rate throughout the course of an innings regularly, Rossouw has managed to keep his scoring rate at an acceptable tempo. While he has had to start at a slower pace in the first ten balls he faced, he has made up quickly, too.
In matches where the Riders have batted first, Rossouw's scores of 76 not out, 100 not out and 44 were excellent contributions. The century, against Chittagong Vikings, was a great example of how he paced an innings. He started off quite slowly by T20 standards - scoring 20 off 15 balls - before reaching his fifty off 29 balls, even as Hales was blazing away at the other end, racing towards a century. But, at one stage soon after he had reached his half-century, Rossouw looked set to match Hales' astonishing strike rate, hitting three sixes in four balls.
There were other instances, too. During his unbeaten 76 against Khulna Titans, he also added an unbroken 104-run stand with Ravi Bopara for the fourth wicket, the partnership coming at nearly ten an over. Against Sylhet Sixers, Rossouw made the most of his reprieves to score 61 and put the Riders in a strong position in their chase of 195 by the time he fell in the 14th over. Against Rajshahi Kings, he steered the 142-run chase with 55 off 43 balls, and fell with the Riders needing 17 to win.
Riders captain Mashrafe Mortaza wasn't surprised by Rossouw's performance in this season, and was glad the batsman had made the adjustments needed to succeed in Bangladesh conditions.
"His run-scoring in these wickets is really helping our side, but I am not surprised by it," Mashrafe said. "He was part of South Africa's top team and maybe he is not playing for them now, but he would have been a regular otherwise. It is good to see that he is adjusting himself to score runs here. Our local batsmen can learn from him."
Nearly half of Rossouw's runs this season have come at the Shere Bangla National Stadium, where most frontline batsmen haven't had a great time. In Sylhet, among batsmen who have scored more than 100 runs this season, Rossouw has the highest strike rate and average. And in Chattogram, where batting conditions were considered best in the tournament, Rossouw was the second-highest scorer.
The batting displays have also given Rossouw's T20 career a face-lift. He has had a mostly ordinary 12 months leading into this campaign. In 14 matches across the PSL, Vitality Blast and Mzansi Super League, he scored 222 runs, although what may have worked in his favour was a strike rate of 127 in the three tournaments.
Going into the tournament, the make-up of the Riders' squad seemed to indicate that Rossouw was, at best, de Villiers' replacement until the latter was available. By the time de Villiers arrived, however, Rossouw, had already scored 288 runs in six matches, including three fifties. In de Villiers' first appearance for Riders, Rossouw showed his value too, with a superb 35-ball 61 that led them to a critical win, after they had lost the three previous games.
Before the Riders stars arrived, Rossouw made himself indispensable. When the stars arrived, Rossouw accelerated himself and now that their two stars are gone, the Riders can't do without Rossouw.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84