Somerset have boosted their squad for 2016 by signing former T20 overseas player Roelof van der Merwe on a new two-year contract. The move follows a prolific season with the bat in South African first-class cricket where he was the country’s third highest run scorer.
van der Merwe, who has been credited with ‘pioneering a new batting spirit’ at the Titans franchise, will be available to play for Somerset in all formats of the game over the next two seasons.
He first played for the county in 2011 and was a big favourite with fans as he helped Somerset qualify for the final of the Friends Life t20 competition. He was also part of the squad that reached the semi-final of the Champions League in India, where he was the man of the match in the group clash against the Kolkata Knight Riders after smashing his way to 73 from 40 balls.
The 30-year-old recently announced his plans to leave both Titans and South African cricket and pursue a new career for the Netherlands. He secured a Netherlands passport through his Dutch ancestry at the end of June and revealed his hopes of playing county cricket in England as a European Union local citizen.
Somerset have wasted no time in securing his services for the next two years in a deal which will bring him back to Taunton and reunite him with Director of Cricket Matt Maynard, with whom he worked at the St Lucia Zouks franchise in the Caribbean.
The former South African international is currently representing the Netherlands as part of the World Twenty20 qualifying competition.
Renowned for his strength of character and qualities as a leader, van der Merwe is an explosive batsman and more than competent left-arm spinner as well as being regarded as one of the best fielders in the business.
He was the leading four-day run-scorer for the Titans in the 2014/2015-season, amassing 774 first-class runs at an average of 55.28, including three centuries and three half-centuries, with a highest score of 205*.
Somerset Director of Cricket Matt Maynard, who has worked with van der Merwe in franchise cricket in the Caribbean, said: “I am extremely pleased that we have been able to sign a player of his class and character.
“During his career he has proven himself to be a player of high quality and in recent years he has developed his batting to make himself a very good top order batsman.
“He is a world class fielder, a leader on the pitch and will bring a great energy to the squad. I have worked with him in the past and I can assure the members and supporters that this is a great signing for us.”
After signing on the dotted line van der Merwe is clearly looking forward to re-joining the county. “It will be good being back in Taunton,” he said. “Making it through to the Champions League semi-final was great and for me to be coming back to Somerset to contribute in all forms of the game is awesome.
“I enjoyed my time in Taunton and I am really looking forward to working with Matt Maynard again. I really enjoyed working with him at St Lucia Zouks and this is an exciting time for me. Whenever you sign for a team you want to help them win trophies and I hope that I can contribute to that in Taunton.
van der Merwe played 13 one-day internationals and 13 T20-internationals for South Africa between 2009 and 2010 and captured 31 wickets with a best return of 3-27.
Although he was not re-selected for South Africa after 2010, a resurgent van der Merwe was arguably the Titans’ best bowler in the limited-overs format two seasons ago.
His 15 wickets in 12 matches enabled the Titans to rally and reach the Momentum One Day Cup final in 2013/2014.
In a tribute on the Titans website, the franchise credit van der Merwe with starting their batting renaissance in the 2013/2014 season when he was leading run-scorer with five half-centuries.
The club said: “He continued his amazing transformation last season and pioneered a new batting spirit which inspired the Titans top-order to record 10 centuries.”
Titans Coach Rob Walker paid tribute: “His indomitable spirit and defiance has endeared Roelof to the Titans-fans and to a wider South African audience. He had a never-say-die-attitude and was extremely motivated to make a difference and to win matches for the Titans,” said Rob Walter, the Titans coach.
“He was a player who really epitomized what it meant to be a Titan. He constantly set the standards for all to follow. He will certainly leave the local stage proud of what he had achieved at the Skye Blues while playing some of the best cricket of his career.
“The fact that he was the first-class cricketer of the year last season bears testimony to that. Along with the team, I wish him all the successes he deserves moving forward. I wish to thank him for all the hard yards he put into training in order to achieve personal and team success. The changeroom just won’t be the same without the Bulldog,” said Walker.
“It has been a privilege and an amazing journey to be part of the Titans family for the past eight years,” said Van der Merwe.
“My cricket journey will continue, but I have decided on a different path that could be beneficial to my long-term career and family life.
‘I would like to thank everyone at the Titans for all the support and hard work. You had a massive impact into making me the cricketer and person that I am today.
In total, van der Merwe has scored 2,350 runs in 47 first-class matches at 36.71 with three centuries and 17 half-centuries. He has taken 67 first-class wickets at 42.65 with a best return of 4-59.
In 128 games in List A cricket, he has hit 1,639 runs at 23.41, with five fifties, including a highest score of 93, as well as taking 173 wickets at 26.13, with a best return of 5-26.
In T20 matches, he has scored 1,509 runs in 136 games (including 12 for Somerset) at 19.85 with a highest score of 89*, which he made in Somerset colours. His Somerset record is 348 runs in 12 matches at 38.66.
He has also taken 129 T20 wickets at 23.65, with a best return of 3-18. Those figures include 10 wickets for Somerset at 28.6, with a best return of 2-15.