VINCE VAN DER BIJL: Oh how they have blossomed and bloomed
From nowhere to somewhere, Proteas women’s team has captured the nation’s heart
I don’t know about you, but life feels somewhat humdrum after the excitement of the SA20 and ICC Women’s World Cup have faded from our screens. That is, if you were lucky enough to have had electricity! What has changed, however, is the way we view the women’s game.
The atmosphere at the Women’s World Cup final at Newlands was electric. Few can genuinely appreciate the achievement of our team. They beat England and New Zealand and came within 19 runs of beating Australia. These three countries have dominated the women’s game for decades, with no other sides being serious contenders for the title until history was made last Sunday.
The late omission of Dane van Niekerk and the retirement under pressure of Lizelle Lee last year could easily have left the team downcast and drained. Anything but!
The tournament ensured that the women players became personalities in their own right. They have become household names and are now strongly immersed in the SA cricket landscape.
Shabnim Ismail was remarkable and reminiscent of Dale Steyn in his pomp. She was equally determined, gritty and the fastest bowler on view. I cannot wait to meet her.
Marizanne Kapp, a natural leader within the team, was superb in her overall power and flair. The enigmatic Ayabonga Khaka, a product of Mfuneko Ngam’s coaching academy, has mastered the art of bowling yorkers. She played within her own bubble, seldom emotional. When she did show us a wry smile after one of her dismissals, commentator Dane van Niekerk said: “Oh, you will not see her happier than that!”
Laura Wolfaardt is serene, rhythmical, balanced and has the style seen only in coaching manuals or by watching the incomparable Barry Richards. If any child wants to develop as a batter, look no further than Laura. Tamzin Brits was her ideal opening partner. She was more aggressive and adventurous in nature and their partnerships played the Proteas into the final.
The team’s fielding was impressive too. Brits’ superb catch to dismiss Alice Capsey put England on the back foot and swung the match in the Proteas’ favour. In the end it was the desperate tears of frustration of Chloe Tyron when we lost that said everything about the character of this team. They have emerged from nowhere in the past two years.
Sune Luus led with confidence and a gentle authority. She has already, rightly, asked for more support from government and the national federation. Both these organisations need to develop a proper medium-term strategic plan. They can do no better than follow the Australian model that has successfully brought seven ODI World Cup and six T20 World Cup trophies home.
Australian women’s cricket has been the focus of attention of the Australian government and their national federation since the last century.
Belinda Clark is the pioneer of the modern Australian women’s game. She was the Australian captain for 11 years and won two World Cups. She has a batting average of 47.5 and scored a double century in an ODI!
She is also an accomplished leader, director and administrator. I met her in 2006 when she was the MD of the Australian Cricket Academy in Brisbane. This academy is the nucleus of Australian men’s and women’s cricket. Belinda is impressive, authoritative and quietly confident. She has a wealth of knowledge that she was willing to share with me when I was the high-performance manager at Cricket SA. Cricket Australia is the global leader in player and match official management.
Luus could well be “our” Belinda Clark.
Our government’s role requires more than monitoring. It should be one of financial and capacity-building support at all levels. Girls’ and women’s cricket will help drive gender equality and social cohesion. Sport can play such a pivotal role. Once the initial political chatter and excitement has died down from the Proteas’ success, let’s hope that a concrete strategic development plan emerges that provides a firm foundation for the future.
The Newlands final, yet again, illustrated how easily our nation comes together when we have a common passion.
Two World Cup rugby captains in Francoise Pienaar and Siya Kolisi were there to support our women, as were many of our famous ex-cricketers. Roger Federer loved playing in front of the legendary Rod Laver. The Proteas responded similarly in front of our sporting royalty, and I think it’s fair to say they have captured the hearts of the nation.
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