“This is a guy we thought would come closest to emulating AB de Villiers batting in one-day cricket,” Russell Domingo said way back in 2017 on Rilee Rossouw.
Rossouw has during his time in South Africa burnt plenty of bridges, and was the talk of the town when he left the country to sign a Kolpak deal. It sparked a uproar in the country and his decision of leaving the country for money was immensely scrutinised. You know the talks, right?
Even when there was backing like never-seen before, Rossouw burning the bridges seemed like it was done and dusted. Six years, plenty of considerations later, he is back, back at what he does best: awe people. Domingo wasn’t the first to compare him to de Villiers and he wasn’t the last either, even prompting a comparison from one of South Africa’s best: Allan Donald.
His talent was never in question, even when he scored four ducks in his first six ODIs. The backing was to the tilt and so was the bitterness. It was almost like a potion of bitterness that even the most bitter of bitter melons could not compete with.
But since that infamous decision, the left-hander has had such a vein of form, that is evident from his knock on Tuesday (October 4). It was a knock that was coming-of-age. Even though he is 32, well-versed with the challenge of the ever-demanding format, this knock will easily go down as one of statements. One of intent.
Amongst Proteas batters who have played 90 T20s or more, no one possesses a strike-rate anywhere close to the left-hander's numbers - 160.4 - whilst still averaging 38.64 with the bat. During his time away from the national team, the left-hander made an immense impact in various T20 leagues around the world but it was his Somerset stint that ultimately brought him back into the mix.
Just months before his return in South African colours, the southpaw played more than an impactful role for Somerset, scoring his runs at a healthy average of 47.92 while thundering every mile at 192.28, showing a version that was fervent. During his return in the Proteas colours, the 32-year-old showed a glimpse of what he has to offer, an unbeaten 96 that kind of set the motion off.
“You need to play really well but we need a bit of luck as well,” said Rahul Dravid at the end of the clash. But it wasn’t remotely closely related to Rossouw.
Within as many months, the southpaw has shown more than enough credentials to remind the fans why he was rated as highly at one point in time. His game, over the years if anything, has improved massively as the criticism have begun to suppress into mere white-noise. Even blaring noises around him are no more concerning.
While his knock favoured the leg-side, while he did have his chance, a dropped catch at the boundary rope, he instilled immense fear in the opposition. One of the favourites to win the T20 World Cup – India – were put under the pressure of some smart batting ninja-jujitsu.
“I am glad that I could contribute for the winning side tonight. The chat is that we back each other, and we believe in our abilities. I am glad with myself and de Kock for scoring runs tonight,” he said after what was an eventful night for him.
30/1, the scoreboard suggested a phase for India to apply brakes. In walked a batter, whose last two scores in the shortest format were 0 and 0. For someone who had scored two ducks in a row, the third innings is always of utmost importance. And in this case, for Rossouw, it was a matter of more than that, possibly a say on his place in the larger scheme of things.
He walked in, tapped his bat twice and looked at the pitch, asking for some remorse after a tough week. And four deliveries later, it all fell right in place, a whip-me-in-the-leg-side kind of delivery that kick-started a batting procession. One followed another, as the left-hander found himself in pretty neat touch.
Even when one of India’s best bets against left-handers – Ravichandran Ashwin – took the ball, the Proteas batter was spewing venom. Against the spin, he thumped the ball towards the longer boundary for a massive six and seconds later, took his eyes off suggesting that was in the groove.
And when he was dropped on 24, at the boundary by Mohammed Siraj, there was never a comeback for India.
On a night where scoring wasn’t perhaps the toughest thing, it still required someone to put their hands up and Rossouw did that with ease. Nonchalantly, he cleared the boundaries, precisely he split the fielders and powerfully, he whacked the Indian spinners.
Like it was a rampage. And when scooped one past the wicketkeeper towards the South African dressing room, it was not the ball that was delivered but a message.
A message that put an end to all the doubts on his place in this setup. It wasn’t the stroke that he scored to get to his 100 that defined the innings but the one before that. Siraj bowled one wide outside the off-stump but like a surgeon, the left-hander opened the ball well and sliced the ball towards the boundary with some pace.
Back in June earlier this year, Rossouw admitted that he wants to represent his country. And a few months later, he is almost but a flight away to Australia, as one of the Proteas' mainstays.
When he tapped the South African emblem after scoring the century, it was evident that this century meant a world to Rossouw. A world where he still plays for South Africa and at the highest level in the shortest format.