Proteas women stars Van Niekerk and Lee honoured with Wisden awards

Proteas women stars Van Niekerk and Lee honoured with Wisden awards
Oval batter Dané van Niekerk hits out watched by keeper Carla Rudd during The Hundred Final match between Southern Brave Women and Oval Invincibles Women at Lord's Cricket Ground on 21 August 2021 in London, England. (Photo: Stu Forster / Getty Images)

Dané van Niekerk joined an illustrious group of South African cricketers when she was named as one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year in the 2022 edition on Thursday.

Proteas women’s captain Dané van Niekerk and teammate Lizelle Lee were both honoured for their performances at the Wisden Cricket Awards on Wednesday.

Destructive opening batter Lee scooped the Leading Woman Cricketer in the World award while Van Niekerk was named as one of Wisden’s five Cricketers of the Year, an accolade that goes back to 1889. 

Van Niekerk is the only women’s player among the cricketers of the year recipients. The other cricketers recognised alongside Van Niekerk are India’s Jasprit Bumrah and Rohit Sharma, New Zealand’s Devon Conway, and England’s Ollie Robinson. 

“It’s always a massive honour. I didn’t expect it, especially after the couple of years of injury I had. Obviously a nice surprise but also a huge honour as well just to be recognised with a lot of really big names. I still do believe there’s other players that deserve it more than I did. It’s still an honour,” said Van Niekerk to Daily Maverick. 

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A humble pioneer

The period in which players are assessed for the cricketers of the year award is the English summer, a stretch that Van Niekerk dominated. She captained the Oval Invincibles to the title – in the inaugural season – of The Hundred. 

The Hundred is England’s franchise limited overs competition which consists of each team facing one innings of 100 deliveries. 

“I truly believe there’s other players, not just in our country but around the world, that I felt probably deserved it a little bit more than I do. I had so much fun at The Hundred, I performed relatively okay. So it’s pretty special,” said Van Niekerk, humbly. 

She was better than okay, she topped the run scoring charts with 259 runs at an average of 43.16 and took eight wickets at an average of 20.62 with her underrated leg spin bowling. 

The 28-year-old Van Niekerk has battled a spate of injuries in the past few years, with her latest ankle injury keeping her out of the recently concluded 50-over World Cup. 

“I’ve started with rehab and stuff. If all goes well, I’m aiming hopefully for a return [to play] post-May. End of May, beginning of June I hope to be on the park at least,” said Van Niekerk 

The South African skipper joins a prestigious group of South African cricketers – and becomes the first since 2013 –  who have been named one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year since 1994. Kepler Wessels (1995) was the first, followed by Jonty Rhodes (1999), Lance Klusener (2000), Shaun Pollock (2003), Graeme Smith (2004), Gary Kirsten (2004), Dale Benkenstein (2009), Mark Boucher (2009), Neil McKenzie (2009), Hashim Amla (2013) Jacques Kallis (2013) and Dale Steyn (2013). 

England’s Claire Taylor was the first women’s cricketer recognised by Wisden as one of its cricketers of the year in 2009. Van Niekerk becomes the first South African women’s cricketer to be recognised. 

“I found out when I woke up this morning, I was a bit taken aback. I had a really tough two years with injuries so it’s the last thing I expected,” Van Niekerk reiterated. 

Cream of the crop

This is the second time Lizelle Lee’s sizzling 2021 is being globally recognised as she was crowned ICC women’s ODI cricketer of the year at the beginning of the year. 

“She thoroughly deserves it. I sent her a message and I said to her ‘I hope you realise how good you are’. She’s an incredible cricketer she showed it throughout the year,” said Van Niekerk about her teammate. 

“I’m obviously very proud of her, I’ve played a lot of cricket with her [and] know her really well. Obviously very happy for her, I think she thoroughly deserves it based on the year she’s had.” 

“I didn’t like the tag saying I was only a big hitter,” said Lee. “So, I invested a bit more in my ODI game.” Lee’s efforts were rewarded as she had an incredible 2021 with the bat in ODI cricket scoring 632 runs with a high score of 132 not out, at an astonishing average of 90.28. 

The Wisden Leading Women’s Cricketer in the World award was only established in 2015, Australia’s captain Meg Lanning being the first recipient. Since then, no South African has claimed the prestigious award until Lee obtained recognition for her 2021 performances. 

“It’s always a work in progress,” said Van Niekerk about the development and growth of women’s cricket. “It’s been generation after generation, era after era, that’s been fighting for women’s cricket to get the recognition it deserves. 

“I don’t know how quick it should move, obviously with anything in life, you’d hope it’s quicker but the way it’s going and the recognition that women’s cricket is getting at the moment is well deserved for a lot of eras and generations that fought for it. 

“Hopefully it can just continue to grow and really capture, not just the South African public’s eye but around the world,” she said. 

Lizelle Lee from South Africa during the 2022 ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup match between India and South Africa at Hagley Oval on 27 March 2022 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo:  Peter Meecham / Getty Images)

‘Magnificent duo’

Commenting on these achievements, Cricket South Africa Chief Executive Officer, Pholetsi Moseki said: “Dané and Lizelle have again put women’s cricket on the world stage. Their stellar performances, temperament and consistency could not be ignored by all who value excellence.  

“This magnificent duo are a source of inspiration for budding women cricketers who want to reach the highest echelons in this beautiful game. CSA showers them congratulations on these milestones, in the knowledge that there’s more to come to fill their cabinets.” 

Congratulating Van Niekerk and Lee, CSA Board Chairperson Lawson Naidoo said: “These accolades bode well for the positioning of the 2023 ICC Women’s T20 Cricket World Cup as well as the inaugural ICC Women’s Under-19 T20 World Cup, both of which will be held in South Africa during January and February 2023.” DM


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