Feature

'Everything happens in fast-forward - you see the whole game situation in those few seconds'

Roelof van der Merwe relives the catch that changed the T20 World Cup for more than one team

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
11-Nov-2022
It was arguably the catch of the tournament, when Roelof van der Merwe ran backwards and got under the swirling ball, and held on  •  AFP/Getty Images

It was arguably the catch of the tournament, when Roelof van der Merwe ran backwards and got under the swirling ball, and held on  •  AFP/Getty Images

It was the catch that changed the men's T20 World Cup 2022. For more than one team.
South Africa needed 47 runs off 29 balls to beat Netherlands in Adelaide, and David Miller - T20's most clinical finisher this year - was nearly set. He had 17 off 16 when he saw Brandon Glover dig a short ball into the pitch, and took on the pull.
He was slightly late on the shot, and his top edge hung in the air - it seemed like an eternity, but was just a couple of seconds. "Miller clubs it," Ian Smith said on commentary. "It's gone up. Is it going to be safe?" Smith quickly realised the ball had gone very high but not very far, and asked: "Is this the moment?"
Back at ground level, Roelof van der Merwe was scrambling back from short fine-leg to get to it. "When it went up, I knew I was going to have to make a bit of ground," he recalls, speaking to ESPNcricinfo from his home in the UK. "Even though everything happens in fast-forward, you still think, 'it's Miller'. You see the whole game situation in those few seconds."
He lunged forward, sliding on to his knees, and clung to the ball no more than a metre from the turf. He flung it away in celebration, then let out his trademark roar with fists clenched. "What a catch! What a piece of individual brilliance," Smith boomed on commentary. "Van der Merwe, goodness me! The passport says he's old; his legs say he isn't."
"That was a classic piece of commentary," van der Merwe says, laughing. "We'd played great cricket up to that point and we were heavily in the game, but if you drop guys like Miller, they can suddenly finish games in two overs. I was lucky, in a way, that it came to me and I made a lot of ground and it stuck."
He shouldn't even have been playing. During the first round of the tournament, in Geelong, van der Merwe had strained a facet joint in his back and did himself no favours by going out at No. 11 and battling through pain to get Max O'Dowd back on strike in Netherlands' defeat to Sri Lanka.
UAE's victory over Namibia sent Netherlands through to the Super 12s, but van der Merwe was reconciled to missing them. "I could hardly move," he says. "I thought that was the last game I'd play, then I'd head back home, but luckily I pulled up okay. We knew it needed a couple of weeks' rest but we made a decision to keep going. In the end, it turned out quite nicely."
Van der Merwe has seen the catch replayed incessantly in the week since. "I've had enough of it now!" he jokes. "It was brilliant. It's a happy moment for Dutch cricket and I was elated that I was part of it."
He is renowned as an excellent fielder, but admits: "It was probably right up there with my best catches."
"I still have a soft spot for them in my heart [for South Africa]. I'm mates with so many of those guys, and we've played so much cricket together. It's great that we won, but there was a little part of me that felt a bit sad"
Roelof van der Merwe
Netherlands had been aware that a fifth wicket would be key, since South Africa had fielded five frontline bowling options and had a long tail as a result. Two balls later, Glover struck again to remove Wayne Parnell and when Bas de Leede had Heinrich Klaasen, the last specialist batter, caught at midwicket two overs later, the game was up.
The Dutch celebrated - and so did Pakistan, who had watched the run chase in the changing rooms. South Africa's defeat had turned their game against Bangladesh into an effective quarter-final and Babar Azam - van der Merwe's old Somerset team-mate - grinned in the direction of the Netherlands team as they walked off.
"Now make sure you win, so we finish fourth," Tom Cooper shouted back at Babar. They did, ensuring their own progress into the semi-finals and Netherlands' automatic qualification for the 2024 World Cup in the Caribbean and the USA. "We were all glued to the screen and supporting [Pakistan]," van der Merwe recalls. "It was just the cherry on top for our tournament, Pakistan doing that."
As a result of his catch, van der Merwe has been inundated with "loads of messages" on social media from Pakistan's supporters over the last week. "In the final, I'll just support cricket," he says. "I think it should be a good game. Going into it, England look like an unbelievable outfit but Pakistan's pace attack have been great."
Another subplot brought mixed emotions for van der Merwe: his catch had helped knock the country of his birth, whom he represented in two previous T20 World Cups, out of the tournament. "I still have a soft spot for them in my heart," he admits. "I'm mates with so many of those guys, and we've played so much cricket together.
"My feeling was a little bit unsure on the whole fixture and how it unfolded. It's great that we won, but there was a little part of me that felt a bit sad. But I suppose that's sport: they were outfought and we played better cricket than them on the day. We deserved it."
The win was a perfect ending for Ryan Campbell, who was with the squad as a consultant after a cardiac arrest brought his five-year tenure as head coach to an end. "We're so happy for him that his time with Dutch cricket ended in that way," van der Merwe says. "It was an emotional period, knowing Cambo was done, but a great way to send him off."
Now, his focus turns to 2024. "We're getting closer to the big boys," van der Merwe says. "The boys have had a taste of what it's like and have a better understanding of what it takes to compete against those guys in big stadiums with massive crowds."
What about his own prospects of reaching that tournament? "Fingers crossed. The real work lies ahead and we'll see whether I'm still good enough, but I'll be working towards it for sure," he says. "I've got to keep staying fit, and keeping these old bones oiled. I'd love to be part of it."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98