South Africa came nail bitingly close to beating Australia in the semi-final of the Women’s World Cup 2017. All for the sake of the last two balls, that’s how close it was… These are the margins in the modern era of women’s cricket and that makes for very exciting cricket. It is also a very long
way from where women’s cricket in South Africa started.
In 1888 Harry Cadwallader (first secretary of South Africa Cricket Association) commented on women’s cricket in South Africa saying, "a number of the fair
sex are indulging in practice... and they showed they are possessed of not inconsiderable talent..." *
Fast forward and South Africa has become one of the world's leading nations when it comes to women's cricket. The sport attracts more players every year
and Cricket South Africa are committed to ensuring that this trend continues, just look at the video they shot ahead of the World Cup. There are clubs
all around the country competing and organisations working to ensure that the development of women's cricket grows not only at grassroots but also
to demonstrate that it is a career girls can aspire to.
The system seems to be working with the likes of Laura Wolvaardt, at only 17 already sitting in the top 10 of the world rankings and her batting being
discussed with much expectation and excitement. These things don’t just happen, they take time and it seems that that time is now. South Africa sit
at number 6 in the world rankings currently but having beaten the West Indies (who sit one spot above them) by a stunning 10 wickets in the World Cup,
this is South Africa’s announcement that they are ready to enter a new phase. This along with the stunningly close defeat in the semi-final to the
eventual winners, cements this new era.
Some may say you need to look at stats to draw conclusions rather than look at World Cup performances, but if this is so then trawl through the stats and
you will see a trend that only serves to confirm South Africa’s ascension. When 7 out of the top 10 “best bowling figures” are South African, that
makes a statement. When 4 of top 10 “most wickets” including number 1 for Dane van Niekerk and 3 of the top 10 spots for most maidens are again South
Africans this is no longer chance or luck. When you look at these stats and analyse them the message is, there is a growing presence of South African
bowlers at the top of the world rankings that makes the attack look stronger than ever before.
Add to this mix the exciting batting talent of Laura Wolvaardt who has gone straight in at 8 on the “most runs” table and the big hitting Lizelle Lee with
the most fours and sixes. The batting pack of Chloe Tyron with the fastest 50, Mignon Du Preez at 7 with best batting average and Dane Van Niekerk
as the second-best all-rounder makes a great balance of talent, experience, maturity and youth that makes it very dangerous on the world stage.
Above all else team spirit and morale is key at this level and spending time chatting with the players served only to confirm my views of the team. Mignon
spoke of the team wanting to leave a legacy, Laura wanted to make as many runs for the team and make the country proud, Dane couldn’t remember her
records or stats when I asked her. All Dane replied was “I just want to contribute for my team. I don’t know my records, that’s not what I play for.”
When the team captain is regarded as one of the best in the world, has a boat load of records and more top stats than anyone else in the team yet her
response is like that, it shows a humility and team spirit that can’t be manufactured. When I listen to how the rest of the team talk about their captain
Dane Van Niekerk, as well as each other there is a commradie that is wonderful to see, but its more than a warm feeling. This is a team that is connected,
that support each other and bring out the best in each other whilst pursuing one common goal. You can be the best team or athlete in the world and
yet be the most objectional person in the world.
The South African team from management through to each and every player all conduct themselves in the same way internally and externally to the world.
If it’s a rainy day the team are out meeting fans and signing things for them, if it’s the media team dealing with people like me they are so helpful
and friendly. The outcome of all of this is that their approach is infectious, it impacts those around them positively, from the kids on social media
saying how great it was to the officials that I spoke to saying they had never met such a nice and easy to work with group of people and how they rubbed
off on others. Its these things that for me complete the “package”, conduct like this inspires those they come into contact with but also the next
generation and the nation they represent. They are an example to all in how they perform but also in who they are.
As a team, they had a slogan coming into the World Cup, “always rising” and that’s exactly what they have done and I look forward to seeing the
continued accent of this team.
*Odendaal, Andre (2009), A short history of women's cricket in South Africa