Why Proteas bowler Nonkululeko Mlaba likes to ‘play with the pace’ to beat batters

Proteas Women celebrate Nonkululeko Mlaba's wicket after bowling out Emelia Kerr

Nonkululeko Mlaba is keen to continue with her form the Proteas Women when they take on Pakistan: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Aug 31, 2023


The Proteas – men and women – have rarely undertaken a tour to the sub-continent with spin bowling being their chief weapon.

But that is set to change, such are the riches that the Proteas Women’s squad possess on their maiden trip to Pakistan.

Left-armer Nonkululeko Mlaba is not only the current SA T20 Player of the Year but also sits in second position on the ICC T20I rankings, just below England superstar Sophie Ecclestone.

The 23-year-old has rapidly developed into a potent threat, particularly in the shortest format, where she has claimed 28 wickets at an average of 22.35.

‘Lefty’, as she is known to her teammates, also boasts a miserly economy rate of 5.89.

Not bad for someone who never really thought of cricket as a future occupation.

“Cricket wasn’t really something I wanted to make my career. I was just playing it for fun. But now growing up, I’m doing my very best to take it seriously. I think now I’ve grown as a person and as a player,” Mlaba told reporters from Karachi, where she is preparing for the Proteas’ first T20 International on Pakistan soil tomorrow (4.30pm start).

"When I am playing, I am fully focused on the job at hand. But I try to stay in the mode that I’m still playing club cricket. That’s where my love for cricket started. That’s how I perform and play well.

“So, every time I play, I pretend that I’m playing club cricket, and that’s why I just go crazy every time I take a wicket – because that’s how I was when I played club cricket.”

The Proteas will certainly be heavily dependent on Mlaba to set the tone upfront in the PowerPlay, just like she did at the ICC T20 Women’s World Cup on home soil, where she created the pressure for the likes of Shabnim Ismail, Marizanne Kapp and Ayabonga Khaka to strike at the other end.

Mlaba’s game-plan revolves around darting the ball into the batters and not offering much flight in order to limit the boundaries in the PowerPlay.

But with ace strike bowler Ismail now retired, will the peroxide blonde tweaker adopt a more attacking role upfront?

“I am trying to change my pace, because I feel the slower I bowl, the more I get a bit of turn. That’s how I beat the batters.

“I think the way to go for me is to bowl a bit slower, because that’s how I can change it and play with the pace a bit more,” Mlaba explained.

“But my role is about building pressure. It is about more dot-balls that lead to taking wickets. I feel that even though sometimes I am not taking wickets, I am building the pressure to allow the next bowler to take wickets.”

Mlaba will not have the experienced Chloe Tryon with her in Pakistan for support, after the experienced left-arm spinner requested a leave of absence but she has been joined by her fellow KwaZulu-Natal spin twin Nondumiso Shangase.

The Proteas will also be hoping that former captain Suné Luus will be able to play a bigger role with the ball now that she has stepped down from the captaincy, as her leg-breaks could be really useful in Pakistan.