Laura Wolvaardt ... the ‘cool’ hitter of sixes
Well-known for it’s vivid descriptions on its commentary scorecard pages Cricinfo outdid itself on this occasion. While the shot was a thing of beauty, the commentator’s flamboyant portrayal was probably more due to shock.
Laura Wolvaardt possesses a striking cover drive. It is arguably the most aesthetically pleasing thing you are likely to witness in world cricket at the moment. But here she was, clearing her front leg to create room to allow for a full swing of the willow to despatch Megan Schutt over the square-leg boundary for six.
“That was really cool.” Even Wolvaardt had to admit this, unable to hide a smile breaking through upon recollection, when we sat down this week at The Paddocks shopping centre beside Milnerton’s seaside looking across at Table Mountain in all its glory.
“I don’t know where that came from,” the Proteas sole representative in the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2020 team of the tournament continued. “It’s probably got to do with the fact that we needed 12 runs an over and I had to swing. That’s not normally a characteristic of my game, but I think a result of the gym work.”
The agricultural heave to the leg-side was one of two sixes Wolvaardt struck on a drama-filled night at the SCG. She also thumped three further crisp boundaries - all through and over the off-side of course - to finish unbeaten on 41 off only 27 balls.
It was an innings worthy of being a match-winning one. But the stars were not aligned as the Sydney drizzle combined with Australia’s tenacity, grit and experience in knockout matches saw the Proteas fall agonisingly short by five runs in yet another ICC World Cup semi-final. The Aussies went on to lift the trophy a few days later in front of 86 000 spectators, which included US pop-star Katey Perry, when they outclassed a helpless India at the MCG.
Does Wolvaardt have any “what if” feelings lingering? “What if” she hit another six? “What if” the rain came down all night which would have allowed the Proteas to progress to their maiden final?
“I think definitely because we came so close, like five runs short. There was a lot of ‘if we had scored five runs more it would have been us dancing with Katey Perry right now’. It was a bit difficult to watch that final, but to see the whole event and 86 000 there just gives us more motivation for next time. We definitely thought it was our chance. A lot of people saw signs that it was with a lot of things going our way. All the little margins were going in our favour, so desperately disappointed.
“It was an amazing tournament. That opening win against England gave us real confidence going into the next few games. The thing that stood out for me was the way it really was a team effort. If you look at the different games, every time it was someone else that stood up, whether it was Mignon (du Preez) with her six to save the game against England, or Shabnim (Ismail) bowling well against Thailand.
“It was a very long day. We only played like at 7 o’clock in Sydney. It was pouring outside the whole day, so we did not know if we would get a game in. Obviously, you want to make the final in the proper way, and deserve to be there and beat the best team, that’s what we wanted the most. But if it rains, you’re in the final. But we were very excited to take to the park that day to prove that we should be there.”
The Proteas will get another date with the Aussies at an ICC tournament again. There’s little doubt about that. They are a team that stays true to their slogan #AlwaysRising and have a good combination of youth - Wolvaardt, Nadine de Klerk and Nonkululeko Mlaba - to complement the experienced core of skipper Dané van Niekerk, Marizanne Kapp, Shabnim Ismail and Co. to launch another crack at the ICC 50-overs World Cup title next year in New Zealand.
Their skill levels have certainly improved to the extent where the Proteas can compete with anyone. The bowling is world class with Kapp, Ismail and Ayabonga Khaka leading the way. The batting unit is also no longer solely reliant on Lizelle Lee or Van Niekerk. Along with Wolfvaardt, Sune Luus also contributes much.
However, the one area the team is still playing catch-up to the Aussies, in particular, is in the fitness department.
Meg Lanning’s side have admittedly been fully professional much longer than their South African counterparts, but with Cricket SA now having the entire Proteas squad on their contracted books, the gap needs to be closed quicker. With Wolvaardt, 20, part of the maiden intake and starting her international career in this mould, she certainly has the outlook and mindset to improve.
It was interesting to note that she mentioned earlier that the six struck at the SCG “was a result of the gym work”. It’s also no coincidence this meeting was snuck in just before a session with Wolvaardt’s private fitness instructor, hence the casual gym attire.
“Fitness makes a big difference. If you look at the standard of fielding Australia sets the bar. They are a really fit side and it shows. I enjoy it. I don’t mind going to the gym.”
Talking to Wolvaardt, and getting to know her better, I can’t help but get the feeling that I am sitting with a future Proteas captain.
She is articulate and gives a great degree of thought before answering every question. Equally the manner in which she describes her preparation for a big match belies the fact that it was only a couple of years ago she was at Parklands High School creating music ballads that can now be seen on YouTube.
“I am not the type to just rock up and play. I definitely take some time before a game to think about what I want to do and visualise what might happen and see myself playing well.”
These are all solid leadership credentials, but right now Wolvaardt simply wants to enjoy the path she’s chosen of being a professional cricketer with her medicine studies on hold for the time being. She is fully behind captain Van Niekerk - her all-time hero. “Dané leads from the front. Her cricket knowledge is amazing and there is nobody that can give an inspirational speech before a game like she can."
As for Wolvaardt, at only 20 she has the world at her feet. The world better beware.@ZaahierAdams