Sunrisers Eastern Cape are crowned champions during the Betway SA20 final match between Pretoria Capitals and Sunrisers Eastern Cape at Wanderers Stadium. (Photo by SA20/Sportzpics/Gallo Images)
At the Wanderers
- Evergreen Roelof van der Merwe illustrated vividly that he’s still a premium player in the T20 format with a fine showing in the SA20 final.
- Moreover, the 38-year-old is credited with instigating the turnaround in Sunrisers Eastern Cape’s campaign after a poor start with skipper Aiden Markram stating he was a “leading character”.
- Van der Merwe has no plans of scaling down his participation as his competitive fire still burns.
Even at 38, the “Bulldog” still has a very serious bite.
Roelof van der Merwe – mere months after breaking Proteas hearts at the ICC T20 World Cup with the stunning catch that saw the Netherlands knock them out – is back endearing himself to the South African cricketing public with his infectious enthusiasm and skill, headlined by a Man of the Match performance in the historic SA20 final here on Sunday.
The wily left-arm tweaker produced a superb spell of 4/31 as Sunrisers Eastern Cape flouted expectations with a four-wicket victory over Pretoria Capitals, the cherry on top to finishing joint leading wicket-taker (20) with Anrich Nortje.
Yet, as much as Van der Merwe – who represented the Proteas before switching allegiance to the Netherlands – delivered a defining contribution when the stakes were at their highest, it was the turnaround he instigated in the early part of his franchise’s campaign that stands out.
After losing their opening two encounters, Sunrisers’ fortunes changed once he was picked.
Not that he’ll take any credit for that.
READ | Sunrisers’ pair of bulldogs tear off Capitals’ hopes to claim momentous SA20 title
“Even if I didn’t play a game, we probably still would’ve won it. I don’t know. I don’t know what to tell you,” said Van der Merwe.
“We’re sitting here with a trophy and I’m still trying to figure out how we really won it. Nobody gave us a chance when the tournament started, that’s a fact. But we gelled well and almost ‘Moneyballed’ our way to success.
“In the end, we knew exactly what all of us were going to do and we got on with it. Happy days.”
For his skipper, Aiden Markram, his share in the team’s triumph was stark.
“He played a huge role in the turnaround of our season. I’ve said it before, after we lost out first two games, we needed characters to be out there on the park and lead the fight,” said the Proteas star, whose own profitable performances in the tournament saw him being named the Most Valuable Player.
“There’s no better man than Roelof to lead it. He rubs off on everyone else. It bestows a massive role on him because everyone wants to follow him.
“You can also speak about his skillset, which is still incredible. But the biggest thing for us was to have passion and inspiration to win. And that’s what Roelof brought.”
Van der Merwe’s game-changing abilities were on full show in front of a full house, striking with his first delivery to calm the nerves of a Sunrisers attack that seemingly tried too hard to exploit a good toss to win and a favourable surface.
“The ball pinged off the bat in the first few overs and suddenly you’re wondering if you made the right call at the toss,” said Markram.
“It was probably just because we were a bit off with the new ball. But Roelof struck and he paused the game for that period. He bowled a couple of good overs and it led to wickets. He started it off for us.”
It’s likely that Van der Merwe will grace local shores soon again when the Netherlands come to finish a postponed ODI series against the Proteas in late March, a skirmish that will determine South Africa’s hope of qualifying automatically for the 50-over World Cup later this year.
And he’s not planning on relenting on his approach and output.
“I love coming back here, I was here back in 2019. I just love playing in South Africa and it’s very satisfying to be able to contribute towards winning a trophy. We’re here to win them after all.
“Even at my age, I still have something left in the tank. I’m glad I could put it to good use,” said Van der Merwe.
“I just love competing, whatever I’m doing. I love to be a competitor. As long as that desire remains in place, I’ll keeping coming back. That’s the main thing.”