Sport

SEAMER STEAMER

Rising star Nadine de Klerk bowls and bats her way to a bright Proteas future

Rising star Nadine de Klerk bowls and bats her way to a bright Proteas future
Nadine de Klerk bats during the second T20I match between South Africa and Sri Lanka at the JB Marks Oval in Potchefstroom on 30 March 2024. (Photo: Sydney Seshibedi / Gallo Images)

The exciting all-rounder is now one of the first names to appear on the team sheet.

South African all-rounder Nadine de Klerk came back from the Women’s Premier League (WPL) T20 tournament in India last month as a champion.

De Klerk was a late call-up to the winning Royal Challengers Bangalore after England’s Heather Knight withdrew before the start of the tournament, which is the women’s version of the Indian Premier League.

The restriction of four overseas players per match day in each side meant that the 24-year-old found limited playing time in her maiden showing in the WPL. She was also in direct competition with one of the best all-rounders the women’s game has seen, Australia’s Ellyse Perry, for the spot of seam bowler in the playing XI.

Nevertheless, De Klerk made her debut against Delhi Capitals after Perry fell ill. She returned respectable figures of two wickets for 35 runs in four overs in a high-scoring match. With the bat she only managed a single before being caught out.

The experienced Marizanne Kapp, playing in the opposition side, upstaged her compatriot with a player-of-the-match showing, picking up identical bowling figures but notching up 32 runs off 16 balls with the bat.

“Getting an opportunity to play in the WPL was quite unexpected, but it was probably one of the best cricketing experiences I’ve had in my career thus far,” De Klerk told Daily Maverick.

“The one game that I played… I can’t really describe it in words but it was absolutely amazing. The crowd we had at home was insane. It was really special.

“The [level] of cricket was really good as well. The quality of cricket ensures you’re under pressure all the time. It’s the type of experience that you learn so much from.”

Short format vs Tests

De Klerk has demonstrated her short-format skills all over the world. Besides the WPL, she has played in Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League as well as England’s The Hundred.

It’s no surprise then that it’s her favourite format. “I love T20 cricket. I love the pace of the game. I love the entertainment.

“As a bowler, you need to execute your plans. There are some world-class batters out there who are really good strikers.

“The same with the bat in hand. I have to come in and try to put bowling attacks under pressure and score as quickly as possible and smash the ball as far as I can.”

The format has exploded in recent years and nearly every cricket-playing country has its own franchise league in the men’s game. There is also a biannual T20 Women’s World Cup. In Bangladesh in September, the Proteas will try to go one better than they did in their 2023 home tournament (delayed by a year), where they were runners-up.

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The format that has felt the pinch of the booming short-format leagues the most is Test cricket. The women’s game, which already had a limited Test match schedule, continues with the format sporadically.

South Africa played a one-off Test match against Australia in February. They were comprehensively outplayed by an innings and 284 runs. It was their first Test match since 2022, when they took on England, and that was their first in eight years. The last time they played a Test match at home was in 2002.

It is little wonder then that South Africa’s last win in the format was in 2007 against the Netherlands.

“Test cricket is a massive challenge, very much from a mental point of view, especially because we haven’t played a lot of it,” De Klerk said. “I do enjoy Test cricket and I think the more we play it the better we will become. Hopefully we do play more Test cricket in the future. I think it’s a really special format.”

Nadine de Klerk

Nadine de Klerk celebrates a wicket during the first T20I match between South Africa and Sri Lanka at Willowmoore Park in Benoni on 27 March 2024. (Photo: Sydney Seshibedi / Gallo Images)

Taking the lead

De Klerk’s introduction to the national side was gradual. Despite making her international debut seven years ago, she has only played 33 one-day internationals (ODIs) and 50 T20Is, along with her two Test matches.

She has grown from the periphery to one of the first names on the team sheet, and recently led South Africa for the first time. In the second T20I in the current series against Sri Lanka, which Sri Lanka won by seven wickets, regular skipper Laura Wolvaardt was ruled out through illness and De Klerk filled the spot. Wolvaardt was full of praise for the role De Klerk has played for the national side.

“Nadine has been awesome for us this past season,” she said. “She used to spend quite a lot of her time on the bench and now she’s a regular in every single starting XI.

“She’s just amazing with what she offers with both the ball and the bat. To have that seaming all-rounder is so important to the balance in the side. We’re lucky to have that in both Nadine and [Marizanne] Kappie, so we have two of our top six or seven who are able to bowl us 10 overs of seam as well.”

Although De Klerk has spent most of her international career in the shadow of star all-rounder Kapp, she is starting to hit the heights her potential has promised.

She had her best year with the bat in 2023. In ODIs she averaged 45.25 over nine matches, compared with her career average of 19.23. In T20Is, she averaged 36, just under 10 runs more than she’s averaged throughout her career.

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But Wolvaardt believes there’s more to come. “Nadine’s batting has come a long way recently. She’s absolutely smoking them in the nets and I think she still hasn’t shown the best of herself with the bat, even though she has had a couple of explosive innings.

“I’m very excited to see what she can do in the future. Her bowling is improving day by day as well. She had a good tour of Australia with the ball.”

De Klerk took nine wickets on the tour in seven matches, the second most.

“Her mindset as well – the energy she brings and the intensity she plays with are awesome,” Wolvaardt said. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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