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Rassie van der Dussen. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/SURJEET YADAV
Rassie van der Dussen. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/SURJEET YADAV

When the Proteas went into a bio-bubble for the first time before a one-day series against England in 2020, besides a book on birds, Rassie van der Dussen also kept his mind occupied with Rutger Bregman’s Utopia For Realists: And How Can We Get There.

Bregman, a Dutch historian, had garnered worldwide acclaim when criticising the World Economic Forum at its annual gathering in Davos for its focus on philanthropy rather than tax avoidance and the need for fair taxation.

Bregman made his point in a plain, straightforward manner, which must have appealed to Van der Dussen, whose reasoning about the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, which proved so divisive in SA cricket, was clear and concise.

Van der Dussen opted to kneel and understood why it was important for him to do so and it made him stand apart from some of his teammates.

Beyond the sport and besides the usual passions for golf and nature shared by most of his colleagues, Van der Dussen has built a business based on his enjoyment of coffee.

Abantu Coffee celebrated its third anniversary last month. The company has 30 full-time employees and, in a tribute to Bregman’s social outlook, study, medical and maternity leave have been built into employees’ contracts.

Besides providing a broad perspective, Van der Dussen’s worldly view frees his mind from just thinking about cricket. He does give the impression of being quite stern, but his sense of humour is more dry than it is slapstick.

He is particularly serious about his cricket. Throughout the past few years of struggle the Proteas experienced with the bat, mainly in Test cricket, Van der Dussen has been one of the team’s fiercest defenders.

Often pointing out the difficulties of the conditions the Proteas have batted through, that attitude has translated to the one-day team, where the hard work he, Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock do at the top of the order, is often forgotten while the pyrotechnics from that potent middle order grabs the headlines.

Unappealing grind

Saturday’s opening World Cup victory against Sri Lanka provided the perfect illustration thereof.

Within the squad, the unappealing grind the top order must produce is appreciated.

Aiden Markram brought a smile to Van der Dussen’s face during a social media chat between the pair. “The hard graft from you guys doesn’t get the big ‘well dones’, but it allowed us to just come in and jol,” Markram said on the Proteas’ Instagram account on Saturday night.

Before that hundred, the fifth of his career and his first at a World Cup, Van der Dussen’s returns in ODIs this year had been modest. He averaged 31.72, and scored just one hundred and one fifty. Already dropped from the Test team and with young talent such as Dewald Brevis, Ryan Rickelton and Tristan Stubbs demanding attention, Van der Dussen’s international career while not at death’s door was perhaps in flux.

Saturday would have changed all of that. His durability and steadiness is critical to the rhythm with which the Proteas bat, as is the experience he provides.

His celebration on reaching the landmark was not as animated as those of De Kock and Markram — “We don’t normally get much out of you,” Markram told him — but there was enough passion in it that Markram said it drew the attention of teammates.

The long build-up to the tournament, said Van der Dussen, had created something akin to a coiled spring, but having got that first match out of the way, the long road to playoffs now demand their full attention.

“We’ll enjoy [this win], go to bed and then tomorrow, we start all over again,” said Van der Dussen — all serious again.

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