Dane might go one step further than Graeme, Faf
CAPE TOWN – Sports captains could easily be the most over-hyped concept ever. The fabrication of its importance is almost staggering.
Mostly, the main responsibility is the coin toss. Calling heads or tails. Job done! Sometimes a motivational speech or two is required, which could lead to a Hollywood production a few years later.
Cricket, though, is different.
Captains matter regardless if it’s Tests, ODIs or T20s. Unlike football and rugby where the manager/coach is the chief tactician, in cricket it is the captain who activates the strategy and game plans out on the field. For all Siya Kolisi’s remarkable achievements and accolades since the Springboks’ glorious night in Yokohama last year, can you imagine India’s coach Ravi Shastri - if substitutes were allowed in cricket of course - looking at his bench in the final over of a World Cup final for someone to replace Virat Kohli?
I don’t think so.
It is for this reason that I believe Perth was a seminal moment for the Proteas women’s team and their leader Dane van Niekerk after they beat England at the World T20 on Sunday.
With all due respect to Proteas women’s coach Hilton Moreeng, there are precious few outside of the team circle who would recognise the former Free State wicket-keeper.
Van Niekerk is the heart and soul of the Proteas team.
She steers that ship and her crew will run through a brick wall for the blonde all-rounder. It’s been like that for years. But for all the passion, the Proteas needed belief.
They had pushed the big teams close at major tournaments the past few years, but they weren’t able to get over the line.
In 2017, South Africa celebrated a World Cup semi-final loss in Brighton. At the time it was an achievement, but that is now the yardstick.
Anything less should be regarded as a failure. Initially the new-found pressure was too much too handle as the team crashed out prior to the knockout stages of the 2018 World T20. Injuries to key personnel, including Van Niekerk, also played its part.
“We’ve worked hard for the last couple of years and the team has gone through a lot... injuries and ups and downs,” Van Niekerk said.
“The thing I can complement my teammates on is the way they came back. They kept on working harder and came back stronger. We just feel it’s time for this team to achieve something special.”
Everyone is now back together, with Van Niekerk at the helm once more. Initially hesitant to lead from the front, and wanting to safeguard any claims of nepotism towards her spouse Marizanne Kapp, she batted lower down the order to give others opportunities.
She now understands her value and importance to the team. Equally Kapp’s. She has promoted herself to open the batting and Kapp bats at No 3. There is nothing more to it. It’s the best decision for the team.
The fact that it was successful against England was the rubber stamp. Crucially, Van Niekerk no longer shoulders all the responsibility anymore. She has full confidence in her teammates. SA have been blessed with great captains in recent years. Graeme Smith and Faf du Plessis come to mind. But it is they who are privileged to have Van Niekerk leading the Proteas women’s team right now.
And who knows she might just go one step further than Smith or Du Plessis ever did and return with an ICC world crown.@ZaahierAdams