Laura Wolvaardt is a safe pair of hands at the Proteas helm
The national women’s cricket captain will probably finish her career as her country’s greatest batter, but the hard-working ‘all-rounder’ has more strings to her bow than just a glorious cover drive.
Laura Wolvaardt is an exceptionally talented batter with a range of strokes – particularly her eye-catching cover drive – that draws admiration from fans and even sporadic cricket watchers.
At 24, she’s in the top five highest run-scorers for the country in one-day international (ODI) and T20I cricket, and she will almost certainly end her career at the top of the pile.
Wolvaardt also has the highest average in both formats for the country, and has scored at a faster rate than anyone else in the top 20 run-scorers list in T20I cricket. She is the definition of a generational talent.
But recently the sweet strokemaker was presented with the added responsibility of captaining the national side – initially temporarily, but she looks set to continue to lead the side for the foreseeable future.
There were concerns that the burden that comes with being the captain might affect her batting performances. But in Wolvaardt’s first expedition as skipper at the start of the month, she finished as player of the series in a three-match T20I series against Pakistan after racking up 157 runs in three innings.
“I think in a way [the captaincy] almost helped me a bit, because sometimes I sit in my room and I think about my batting all day long,” Wolvaardt told Daily Maverick.
“[The captaincy] has almost helped me think about my batting a bit less and forced me to think about other things. So, I think it’s actually been a good thing.”
The team, however, was whitewashed in the T20I series before beating Pakistan 2-1 in the ODI series.
The Proteas Women are currently playing New Zealand’s White Ferns in an eight-match white-ball series in South Africa.
Wolvaardt comes from an academically accomplished family. Her father Frederik recently completed his master’s degree in palaeontology “for fun” even though he works as a nuclear engineer as his day job.
She had aspirations of becoming a doctor, having done a semester at Stellenbosch University before cricket commitments upended her surgical ambitions. But she is four modules away from completing her Bachelor of Science degree in life sciences through the University of South Africa.
Wolvaardt has taken her analytical thought processes into leading her country to varying success in her short stint thus far.
“I normally like to be pretty organised and prepared with university stuff as well,” she said. “I like to make sure I study and cover everything beforehand.
“For the captaincy, I’ve kind of tried to take the same approach to make sure I know all the opposition players and what they’re good at.
“But I’ve learnt that actually applying it on the field is a whole different story and you have to be a lot more adaptable.
“I think that was probably my biggest learning on the Pakistan tour. I almost tried to plan it a bit too much. But so many different things can happen in the match and you have to adapt more and go on your gut feeling a bit more sometimes [rather] than actually planning it out,” Wolvaardt said.
Leadership comes naturally. She was the head girl of Parklands College in Cape Town in 2017 – the same year that she represented the Proteas at the Cricket World Cup in England, where they reached the semifinals.
The methodical, meticulous and newly acquired adaptable skill set Wolvaardt possesses makes her appointment as captain of the team a no-brainer. Even on the rare occasions that she doesn’t have a good day with the bat, her astute cricket brain will help the team’s cause.
“It’s been nice so far to be able to contribute in a different way that’s not just with the bat,” she said. “It’s happened in the past when I got a first-baller in an ODI and then I’ve just sat on the side the whole time, so I’ve enjoyed being able to contribute a bit more.
“It would just feel like a wasted day almost… [The captaincy] almost makes me a bit more of an all-rounder, which is nice.
“The fielding has also gone a lot quicker, which has been nice in ODI cricket, because I have so much to think about that the 50 overs have just flown by where normally it feels like hours that I was out there.”
The Proteas have forcibly moved into new territory after the international retirement of several members of the previous guard who had helped take the team to new grounds, including to several World Cup semifinals – players such as Mignon du Preez, Shabnim Ismail, Dané van Niekerk, Lizelle Lee and Trisha Chetty.
Under Wolvaardt’s leadership – along with the support of senior players Marizanne Kapp, Chloe Tryon and Suné Luus – the side looks set to build on that rock-solid foundation.
“We had a very successful World Cup and obviously have quite a lot of changes in the side,” Wolvaardt said. “We have quite a young, inexperienced side so we’re sort of starting the journey together.
“But, yeah, at the same time we still have those experienced players around to help, which has been nice. I think it’s been a good balance.”
Except for the retirement of Ismail, South Africa’s core bowling unit has been intact for years. This, Wolvaardt said, had made her new job a lot easier.
“It’s helped a lot, especially with many of our bowlers being pretty senior like Aya [Ayabonga Khaka], Klasie [Masabata Klaas] and Kappie [Kapp],” she said.
“They all know their plans pretty well, which has made it a bit easier for me, and having players like Kappie and Suné helped me quite a lot as well with the captaincy on the field.
“It’s nice to have them on the field. If I’m ever torn between two bowlers or torn between two fields, I can just shout across and ask what they think. So it’s definitely helped me.”
Wolvaardt has at least another decade of cricket ahead of her and, for the time being, the captaincy of the national team looks in safe hands. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.