Roelof van der Merwe is one of the few cricketers to have represented two international teams. When he was just 24, he broke into the South African team, making his debut in a T20I fixture against Australia.
A tidy left-arm spinner and a lower-order big-hitter, he soon found himself in great demand in the franchise leagues, even though his international career with South Africa never really took off.
Between March 2009 and May 2010, he featured in 13 T2OIs and as many ODIs for the Proteas, before shifting his base to The Netherlands in 2015.
It’s been a long stint with the associate nation since, but now at 38, van der Merwe is set to make his ODI World Cup debut for The Netherlands.
Over the last few years, he has been part of The Netherlands’ T20 World Cup squad - in 2016, 2021 and 2022 - but now at the fag end of the career, van der Merwe is looking forward to the ‘big challenge’.
“It is my first 50-over World Cup. There was always disappointment every four years for South Africa, but that’s part of the game and how the cookie crumbles. I am super excited to be with the boys and we have shown the world that we can compete with the big teams,” van der Merwe told Sportstar on Monday.
The Dutchmen will be taking on India in the second warm-up game at the Greenfield Stadium on Tuesday, before travelling to Hyderabad for its opener against Pakistan on October 6.
And, like his young colleagues, the seasoned campaigner is also excited. “We are here to win games and we will give our all, and I am sure that with the way we have trained, this group is going to upset a few teams and win a few games…”
The team had a long training camp in Bengaluru recently, and also featured in friendlies with the Karnataka side. But then, unlike most teams who come into the tournament on the back of international assignments, The Netherlands wasn’t that lucky.
“You can’t replace game time. There’s no better preparation than that. It brings in a different level of consequence - competing with other people, and it’s hard to replicate that in training. But we have got to make do with what we have got and that meant a preparatory camp in Bengaluru,” he said.
“The boys trained hard, they prepared well. You have got to work with what you have got and I think we have done the extent of what we could do. We have ticked all the boxes, and I don’t think we can be anymore ready.”
Having featured in the Indian Premier League (IPL) in the past with Royal Challengers Bangalore, van der Merwe understands that in India, the spinners will have the edge, and perhaps that’s why, over the next month-and-a-half, he will have a challenging task.
“When you come to the sub-continent, you have to be prepared to spin well - in ODI cricket especially, we can lose a game if we slip in those one or two little moments. We are throwing in a lot of ideas around the team, there are a lot of guys with experience and we are working on every angle to get the game plan ready and find a way to win games,” he said.
Being part of a team that has an average age of 25, it’s not easy. But being a ‘big brother’, van der Merwe has fitted well. His taste in music is different from the current crop, so are his ideas, but even then, he has gelled well.
“You have got to move with the times,” he said, with a smile. “I don’t listen to grime music, but I have tried it. I have tried a few of the things that the youngsters do and I educate them on my way of thinking and what I do. It’s all good. We have got a good group, and there’s no ego in the group, which is nice. We are all working together to win games. It’s a lovely group to be a part of,” he said.
While his team-mates are fans of ‘remix’, the ‘old school’ van der Merwe prefers Elton John. “I listen to the kind of music of the times when 75 per cent guys were not even born. I love the 1980s, a bit of the 1990s. Rock of Ages is my favourite, I like a bit of Elton John. It’s good to give them a taste of mine, but they normally listen to the remix versions. They like them more,” he said
Ever since landing in India, van der Merwe has had an incredible outing with his teammates - enjoying off-days and training hard when on the field. He understands that he’s in his sunset years. But he is not willing to hang up his boots just yet.
“I am still privileged to be part of the game, and I love everything about it. I love competing and that’s one of the things that keeps me young. The change of environment, being on tour with the boys - all those things combined, still gives me that hunger to play and try and win games,” he said.
Once the World Cup is over, he plans to wait for a year or so, before making a decision on his future. But he certainly plans to don the coach’s hat soon.
“When it comes to where I am at in my career, you have to take almost every day as it comes. But planning forward, I will probably go into coaching. I love the environment around the teams and I want to use the experience that I have gained over my career and pass it on. I believe I have got something to offer in that space. I will see how a year or so goes, but that’s the planning for now,” he said, adding: “I am taking one game at a time and I am still enjoying it - the body is still holding up, so it’s all good…”
Always considered a shorter-format player, van der Merwe had to wait for 14 years before fulfilling his dreams of featuring in an ODI World Cup. But now that there’s an opportunity, he does not want to dwell on the past. Instead, he hopes to bow out with head held high.
“I have always been a shorter format player, but I think I have featured in a few T20 World Cups, but yeah, it’s just how things have panned out. I can’t put my finger on why it has happened, but I am here today,” he said, further adding, “So, I am happy.” Bon voyage!
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