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IPL 8: Rossouw trying to break into star-studded RCB line-up

IPL 8: Rossouw trying to break into star-studded RCB line-up

Rossouw isn't unfazed about the lack of opportunities at RCB and hopes to improve his game against spin.

Bangalore: Rilee Rossouw and Virat Kohli first crossed paths seven years ago, at the Under-19 World Cup final in Kuala Lumpur. Both batsmen were talked up as future batting mainstays, and the man who mentored them early in their careers, Ray Jennings, often spoke in admiration at the talent at his disposal.

Today, Rossouw and Kohli share a dressing room at Royal Challengers Bangalore, and although the dynamics have changed - Kohli the man at the helm and Rossouw trying to break into a superstar side - the healthy camaraderie and team ethos that Jennings once instilled in his young wards is very much palpable.

Rossouw’s first-class debut came a few months before the Under-19 World Cup in 2008. Two years later, the spotlight was firmly on him as he cracked the then fastest triple-ton in South African domestic cricket. Four years of toil later, he finally made his international debut against Zimbabwe. Fair to say then that Rossouw’s rise has been methodical and not meteoric.

“I’m just glad I have been given the opportunity. It has been a long hard ride for me," he reflected. “I could not take shortcuts anywhere and I have put in the hard yards. I have worked hard on my game and eventually getting to the peak of international cricket is where I want to be. I just don’t want to get there, I want to stay there."

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Rossouw exudes the confidence of a free-spirited individual. There’s always a smile plastered on his face, and that he’s itching for an opportunity to play in a Bangalore side filled with superstar batsmen would be an understatement.

His first taste of the IPL came in 2012, much before his international debut. Two years later, he was resigned as a replacement for Australia’s Nic Maddinson. Since then, he has featured in just three matches and has spent most of his time in India on the fringes. But that hasn’t changed his approach towards his net sessions and training drills.

There was an air of expectation as the Bangalore squad hit the nets on Friday (April 17) at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. Rossouw sat and watched in admiration as Kohli and AB de Villiers batted alongside each other. The ferocity with which they hit the ball made one fear for holes in the nets. Clearing their front leg nonchalantly, the white ball marauders in them surfaced. Later, it was the same with Dinesh Karthik and Darren Sammy. It looked like there was a six-hitting competition to be won.

Then came a sea of calm as Rossouw strode to the nets with two bats, a lighter one for the faster men and the heavier one for the spinners. The intent wasn’t to challenge the might of his more illustrious senior players, but to get a feel of the ball hitting the middle of the bat. After all, opportunities to figure in a top-heavy batting side could be rare, especially with Chris Gayle and de Villiers occupying two of the four slots for foreign players.

Rossouw isn’t too fussed though and is willing to use his time in India to fine-tune his game against spin. “Everywhere you travel as a cricketer you learn," he said. “There are guys who have been around here for years. Guys like Dan (Daniel Vettori) and ABD, so you learn a lot.

“It has made a huge impact on my career. It has improved my game against spin immensely, and also helped me take on the new ball better. It has also helped me improve mentally as a cricketer. From an international perspective it has helped me deal with stress because 50 overs is much longer than 20. That helped me."

Most noticeable is Rossouw’s spontaneity as he speaks about his game. The willingness to learn from his experience, he says, is most important to him. One such experience, the 2015 World Cup which he termed the biggest of his life, was a bittersweet one. It’s been nearly a month to that day when South Africa were knocked out in a heartbreaking semi-final, but Rossouw has moved on.

“I think because it was my first World Cup, it was a little bit easier. But I was feeling gutted for the senior players," he said. “Everyone in the side and the nation wanted us to do well in the World Cup. We also believed this year was our year. But to be honest, I think we have left it behind. The sun comes up tomorrow and cricket is not all in all. We’ve got our families, so this is only a part of my life which I want to enjoy while I can. There are going to be ups and downs and it is about handling the downs and looking at the brighter side of things."

The raw emotions from that night in Auckland may have evaporated, but Rossouw said the loss only increased his burning desire on an individual front. “Everyone in South Africa was very proud of what we did and achieved," he said of the heroes’ welcome the team received in Cape Town.

“It makes me want to succeed more for my country. Earlier it was my pleasure to do well for my country. Now it is my resolve to do well."

Rossouw is at ease in the Bangalore dressing room as he plays alongside his South Africa team-mates de Villiers, Allan Donald (former bowling coach) and David Wiese. The harder thing he overcame was breaking the ice with some of the young Indian players. His next challenge, in his own words, is to break open the door of selection once he gets the nod.

For now, he’s happy to sharpen his tactical nous with some of the best brains in the business.