Affectionately nicknamed “pug” or “bulldog” due to his obstinate, never-say-die attitude, ex-South African international Roelof van der Merwe has been an extremely valuable addition to the Netherlands squad since 2015. An orthodox left-arm spinner and an aggressive middle order batsman, he plays a similar team role as captain Pieter Seelaar.
Not many people know that van der Merwe began his career as a wicket-keeper batsman. In fact, he was selected specifically for his keeping abilities (alongside Heino Kuhn) in the South African U-19 team for the 2004 World Cup. After trying out spin bowling in a club game not long after, van der Merwe loved the experience and kept on persisting with bowling. He went onto play for the South African men’s national team in 13 ODIs and 13 T20Is. However the lack of regular playing opportunities made him turn his attention to Netherlands instead.
Since making the switch, he has had a successful county career with Somerset and made several crucial contributions for the Dutch, with both bat and ball.
Emerging Cricket sat down with van der Merwe to talk about his career as a dual international, his experience with playing T20 leagues worldwide, cricket in Olympics and his post-retirement plans.
Switching from Green to Orange
Van der Merwe made his official Dutch debut in 2015, in a T20I versus Nepal. By doing so, he became only the 5th man in history to represent two countries in T20I cricket. Similarly, in ODIs he is one of only 14 men to have played the format for two nations. However, it’s not something that he is too fussed about.
‘I suppose it is not something I ever thought of. Growing up, all I dreamt of was to be a professional cricketer and represent South Africa. After being left out of the team, I was always looking to make my way back in. Unfortunately, after four years of trying to crack the nod for selection, it just didn’t seem to be on the cards,’ says van der Merwe.
Frustrated with his ongoing omission, van der Merwe went on a European trip in 2015 to play some recreational cricket during the Dutch summer and catch up with old friends. It was a fateful conversation with then national coach Anton Roux that initially opened him to the possibilities of acquiring a Dutch passport (he has Dutch heritage through his mother) and representing The Netherlands in international cricket.
After much thought, Van der Merwe decided that it was simply too good an opportunity to pass up.
‘The decision was a tough one but being able to play international cricket again and compete on that stage was very exciting. Many discussions later with family and fighting the possible decision to close the door on representing South Africa again, we felt that it was a great opportunity for my career and family.’
‘I knew there were many sacrifices that will be made by myself and my family and I am grateful for their continued support. I have been so lucky to have played professional cricket for 14 years and getting the chance to represent both South Africa and Netherlands’, he adds.
Since getting his Dutch passport, Van der Merwe has been able to play county cricket as a local. He has been with Somerset since 2016 and put in some memorable performances in both red-ball and white-ball cricket. A genuine match-winner with bat and ball, “The Bulldog” states that his passion for the game is still strong.
‘I am fortunate enough to still enjoy playing cricket and compete with the best in the world. I still possess the drive to assist The Netherlands, Somerset County Cricket and any team I play for to win silverware and develop young players.’
He is also excited about Dutch cricket’s future prospects even though in his own words, ‘the sport is not as developed there, compared to the Full Member world.’
‘Yeah, it has been a totally different experience from playing for South Africa. But that makes it very exciting to be a part of and further help develop cricket there. There are a couple of T20 World Cups coming up in 2021 and 2022, doing well in these could help raise the profile of cricket and see more youngsters in Netherlands take up the game.’
Career Highlights and T20 leagues
Van der Merwe’s cricketing journey has taken him around the world from packed stadiums at Eden Gardens and a wide collection of English County grounds to picture postcard venues like Dharamsala, with the snow-capped Himalayan peaks in the background.
But when it comes to cricketing highlights, nothing comes close to his South Africa debut.
‘Making my debut for South Africa at my home ground SuperSport Park in Pretoria was extremely special. This had been my dream from the day I started watching and playing cricket as a youngster: trying to emulate Jonty Rhodes. I remember walking onto the field that night with (Mark) Boucher and (Jacques) Kallis either side of myself and I thought this can’t be happening.’
He later adds cheekily that beating the Aussies made his debut feel extra special.
The discussion then turns to the increasing proliferation of T20 leagues globally. Van der Merwe himself has been a beneficiary, having turned out for various teams in T20 leagues such as the IPL, BBL, CPL, Mzansi Super League and the Hong Kong Blitz.
‘There are so many T20 leagues these days and there is always something that makes them special as you get to experience different conditions and cultures around the world.’
However, the IPL remains his personal favourite.
‘If I had to single a tournament out, I would pick the IPL. It was amazing to experience the passion and love for cricket that the people of India display; everywhere you look or go its cricket, cricket and more cricket. The best players in the world compete in the IPL, so it’s great to test yourself in those conditions.’
Retirement plans and Olympics
Now aged 36, van der Merwe is a veteran of the game. However, his love for cricket has not waned over time and he envisions staying involved long-term.
‘I love cricket, so I do see myself staying involved with the game. Because I believe that I have something to offer, whether it’s in a coaching role or even in a managerial role. Cricket has given me many great memories and I’ve been fortunate enough to pursue it as a career. So, hopefully I could assist other cricketers to do the same by passing on my knowledge and experiences.’
Finally, when asked about cricket potentially becoming an Olympic sport, van der Merwe is emphatic that cricket’s inclusion in the Olympics will be a massive step to further develop the game worldwide.
‘The exposure that cricket would receive by reaching a wider audience, especially in non-Test playing nations will be fantastic. It will encourage more youngsters around the world to take up the sport, to not only represent their country but to participate in this global event. There are obviously obstacles that still need to be overcome before this becomes a reality, but personally I reckon that the T10 format is the perfect fit for the Olympics.’
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