‘Older people liked speaking k*k to my mom … ‘Your laaitie is different’, and stuff like that. And it often led to me being bullied,” says Proteas’ Lizaad Williams, who is getting ready to play in his first ICC Cricket World Cup.
Being different for Williams was not a choice, though. Growing up in Vredenburg on the west coast of the Cape Peninsula, it was a necessity.
“Vrede” might translate to “peace” from Afrikaans, but there was nothing peaceful about Williams’ childhood neighbourhood. In fact, nothing much has changed over the intervening years.
Just last week, an ANC councillor, Arthur Gqeba, was murdered there. It was the 13th attempt on Gqeba’s life.
Williams bowls fast because he’s only ever known life in the fast lane. Raised by a single mother, becoming a father to a little girl whilst still a teenager, and losing a brother to gangsterism is all part of the 29-year-old’s journey.
It is no wonder that he doesn’t fear bowling to the likes of Virat Kohli, Jos Buttler and Babar Azam on the grandest stage of all. Instead, Williams considers it a privilege, considering what may have been.
“Coming from the west coast, the options are very limited. If you don’t complete matric, then either you become a fisherman or you work in a fish factory,” Williams told Independent Media.
“If you are one of the lucky ones of the new generation that has finished matric, then you become an apprentice at Transnet. For my generation, it was either the municipality or factory somewhere in the west coast. That’s the routine of our people.
“We also have the same socio-economic struggles like other communities: gangsterism and crime. That type of thing. My elder brother was involved in gangsterism, and he passed away in 2018. It is easy to get caught up in your circumstances.
“That’s why it’s a massive privilege (to play in a World Cup). It hasn’t sunk in yet. It comes with a big responsibility of representing your country. To go to a World Cup is massive. The magnitude is insane.”
Williams credits two “interventions” that helped him navigate a path that has ultimately led to his inclusion in the Proteas’ 15-man squad for the World Cup in India.
The first was the birth of his daughter, Kay-Zimé Pieters.
“The way my life was going, that was probably the one thing that saved me. I was just 16 years old. That was a life-changer for me. I am a firm believer that you have to live for something bigger than yourself,” he said.
“Massive credit to my mom for helping me. She looked after my daughter until I got a rookie contract at the (Cape) Cobras.”
The second was his acceptance into the University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) Sports Skills for Life Skills (SS4LS) programme.
“I came there with a reputation as a troubled kid. Nic (Kock, the founder of SS4LS) took a chance on me. It is an unbelievable programme at UWC. It is the best-run varsity programme in South Africa.
“The attention to detail, if you’re struggling with a module … they get you an extra tutor that can help you. They were prepared to help me get a degree. If it wasn’t for them, I would not have graduated with a BA in Environmental Studies in 2018.”
Although Williams was starting to find direction off the field after also taking the tentative steps of building a relationship with his biological father – “we are actually in a good space now” – there was still a need for a mentor to guide him along on the cricket pitch.
Fortunately for him, the Cobras were blessed with an abundance of ‘senior pros’ such as Johann Louw, Rory Kleinveldt, Vernon Philander and, of course, Charl Langeveldt during the early stages of Williams’ career.
“In terms of work ethic, Johann Louw was a phenomenal professional to learn from. Up until today, I still send videos to Charl for his input. Even Rory, who is Province’s bowling coach, I remember in my second season at the Titans, I sent him stuff for his opinion. When I made my Test debut, Vern picked up a few things and called me. I am still in contact with the three of them,” Williams said.
A further twist in Williams’ colourful journey was a move to the Titans in Centurion – a world apart from what the feisty fast bowler knew growing up.
Provided with regular game time at the Sky Blues, it was the catalyst that led to Williams eventually earning his national cap.
“I can’t imagine myself living there (Centurion) after cricket,” Williams chuckled. “But I needed a change of environment. I wanted to fulfil my potential.
“All the teams in South Africa hate the Titans, and that’s because of their winning mentality.
“In terms of work ethic, nobody comes close to us. The way the union is also run is highly professional.
The players really drive each other. The main thing, which is cricket, always remains the main thing.”
Williams may have only received a late call-up after Anrich Nortjé and Sisanda Magala’s injuries, but he is certainly not in India to be only a net bowler. His recent performances against Australia in a run-filled T20
International has given him the confidence to make an impact at the World Cup, particularly as a potential ‘death bowler’ for the Proteas.
“When I started at the Cobras, Chico (Langeveldt) always told me to work on my death bowling, because then I would play for South Africa for a long time,” he said.
“Since then, I’ve always worked on my death bowling. I also have the experience now of playing in foreign conditions and was forced to upskill myself. It is a skill that I work on constantly.
“The Australian series was good for me, and I’m definitely not here to go through the motions. I’ve put in a lot of work during the off-season. And I’ve tried to give myself the best possible chance of success.”