JOHANNESBURG – Some weeks back, Colin Ingram uploaded a video to Twitter of himself hammering a truck tyre with a massive mallet. It was a demonstration of one of his training methods for “power hitting”.
“I saw that,” said Lizelle Lee, her voice trailing off. She doesn’t train that way - yet. But there was a look of interest as she rolled it over in her head. For now, much like her batting, her training methods are simple.
“We just have someone throwing balls to us in the middle and we try and hit it as far as possible,” added Lee.
She hits the ball further than most - regardless of gender.
“When we do our power hitting (exercises) in the middle, I try and (hit the ball as far as possible). I love it. It comes naturally, sometimes I don’t think about a shot, I just play. It’s natural - like you know you need to press your clutch to change gears, it just happens, you don’t think about it.”
Lee’s power is awesome. In a T20 match against India at the Wanderers earlier this year, she smashed a lofted cover drive onto the grass embankment, 10 metres up the bank. The few spectators in the ground gasped. The men played a T20 game later that day, and no one hit a bigger six.
“My teammates will tell you my style is all about ‘see ball, hit ball’. I actually lost that in some of the recent games we played (in the West Indies), it just wasn’t the same. As soon as I adopt that policy of ‘see ball, hit ball’, I play much better.”
That has served Lee well; it’s provided her with financial stability too thanks to contracts in Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League and England’s Super League. Besides the monetary returns however, it’s also allowed Lee to grow her game.
“Five years ago you might play a big team maybe once every three years, now we play against so many teams during a year. With the Super League you play with and against some of the best players in the world, and as you do that, it just grows your game. There is always something to learn. With these leagues, it will only get better.
“I’ve learned so much about my game, especially the T20 game. I also know now I don’t have to go from ball one; I can give myself a few overs, get used to conditions and then go from there.”
Lee produced arguably one of the most brutal centuries of the year in the final of the Super League tournament, playing for the Surrey Stars in England.
She smashed 13 fours and six sixes in a 58-ball innings that eventually saw her finish on 104, providing the platform for a Stars victory.
“I obviously didn’t plan it,” she said of an innings that brought praise from teammates and rivals alike.
“I owed the team a big innings so I’m glad it came in the final.
“I can’t take you through the innings because I don’t remember much... I’ve watched it (since), and then I just remembered batting with Nat (Sciver). She’s great to bat with - so calm - and she kept reminding me there were a lot of overs left and she backed me to do anything; if you want to go over the top just back yourself and do it.
“I think I have to give credit for my performance to a lot of the players in the team, they helped me... the coaching staff too.”
It’s the kind of innings which has her national captain Dane van Niekerk believing South Africa has a very good chance of reaching the latter stages of the World T20 which takes place in the West Indies next month.
“We have world class players in our side, someone like Lizelle can destroy an attack on her own and win us a game.”
Lee, who’s played 73 ODIs and 53 T20 Internationals, nearly didn’t take up cricket. When she started studying at North West University eight years ago, teaching and trying to earn a national hockey cap were her priorities. She tried cricket for fun, didn’t like it that she couldn’t keep the ball on the ground when batting, gave it up and then restarted again, and with some minor technical adjustments started making a success out of it.
“It was basically how I started. You get players who start off the base of hitting the ball along the ground, I started with trying to hit the ball as hard as a I can. Then I started to work more on my technique, and to play with ‘soft hands’, which I’m still working on. I just turned it around a bit.”
Lee doesn’t feel it is only the advent of T20 cricket which has seen the women’s game suddenly appear to have so many power hitters.
“Women’s cricket is in the spotlight, more people are paying attention and it’s starting to grow immensely. I just think they (the public) see us doing it more. Look at New Zealand; they have Suzie Bates, Sophie Devine, who hit the ball miles; every team has a player like that, but previously people weren’t paying attention.”
It’s made for a more appealing spectacle and resulted in increased popularity. With that has come pressure too and South Africa in particular will feel that ahead of the World T20. The side is in the same group as the host nation and defending champions West Indies, while powerhouse England, who won the inaugural tournament back in 2009, stand as the major hurdles in the Proteas path to a spot in the semi-finals.
Lee said South Africa won’t be underestimating any team, however. She herself is sticking to the simple mantra of ‘see ball, hit ball’ regardless of whether she makes 100 or 10.
“They pick you for you, they don’t pick you and then ask you to play another style. They want you to play the way you play and they back you, with the ability you have.”
The SA squad for World T20:
Dané van Niekerk (capt), Chloe Tryon, Lizelle Lee, Suné Luus, Shabnim Ismail, Masabata Klaas, Mignon du Preez, Marizanne Kapp, Laura Wolvaardt, * Raisibe Ntozakhe, Zintle Mali, Robyn Searle, Tumi Sekhukhune, Saarah Smith, Trisha Chetty.
* Ntozakhe suspended by ICC for suspect bowling action
Group A schedule
Nov 13 (2am SA time start) v Sri Lanka (Gros Islet)
Nov 15 (2am) v West Indies (Gros Islet)
Nov 16 (10pm) v England (Gros Islet)
Nov 19 (2am) v Bangladesh (Gros Islet)
Nov 22/23: Semi-finals
Nov 25: Final