Most dream to represent their countries. Look beyond stats, go beyond ‘player of the match’ awards. It’s national representation that represents real high for many. But only a few manage to captain the side.
It’s one thing to form a part of a unit, but quite another or steer it. But when someone assumes the ‘charge’ at a young age, the rewarding feeling is about as challenging as the pressure it accompanies.
When Dane van Niekerk was appointed the captain of Proteas Women, she was just 23. At an age where most are probably contemplating their first tattoo, exploring the prospect of a first real relationship, or growing their social media following, the Pretorian took charge of unarguably one of the most passionate sides in the game.
Imagine the pressure? Imagine also the responsibility that came along?
And what do we have post-1460 days of leadership?
Dane van Niekerk has assembled arguably one of the strongest sides in international women’s game.
In response to fiercely competitive lots that include India’s quartet of Smriti, Harman, Poonam, and Deepti (or Jhulan, Mithali, Tania, and Shikha), White Ferns’ Sophie, Suzie, Amelia, and Amy, and Australia’s Alyssa, Ellyse, Lanning, and Haynes, the Proteas Women pack all the punches.
Where Shabnim Ismail represents the power to wither away the best batters with raw pace, in Lizelle Lee and Laura Wolvaardt, the side are in command of two of the finest openers in the modern white-ball game.
In Mignon du Preez, they have among the best willowers in the game’s history, just as in Marizanne Kapp and Sune Luus, South Africa have two of the game’s strongest all-rounders.
Where aggressive hitters up the tempo, sheer pace, spin talent render the rhythm
But the moment you put Dane van Niekerk in there, the undulating rhythm that’s Proteas Women finds the note that completes the melody.
A bit like Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat. Quite like Mozart’s Sonata no.11.
A thrifty competitor, a thinking cricketer but also someone who knows when to switch off, there’s a sense of passion and purpose in Dane van Niekerk- 102 ODIs and 83 T20Is.
And lest it is forgotten, a sense of pride that’s easy to spot in the right-arm leg-break bowler. Just that it doesn’t manifest in chest-thumping manifestations.
The emotion that follows when runs are gifted when the quicker one slides down the legs to go for four byes!
In Dane van Niekerk’s case, it’s never what could’ve been done for the self; it’s what could’ve been done for the Proteas Women.
And without a trace of doubt, there’s also amazement in knowing that at an age where many probably still attempt to secure a permanent spot, Dane van Niekerk is nearing 200 international appearances for her side.
The very Shane Warne-esque deceiver who can flight and twirl. A committed batswoman who can give it a crack in crunch situations. Think Cullinan with the acceleration of Jayawardene!
South Africa’s quiet achiever
In an age where T20 cricket has quite simply become the standard-bearer of the game or, adaptability is just about as important if not less as powerplays and field restrictions.
Can you bat up the order when needed? Can you open the attack or take the new ball as first-change?
The aforementioned often become leading puzzles if teams don’t get it right.
But South Africa seem safe as houses with the freedom of versatility extended by Dane van Niekerk- a cricketer that’s willing to blend in different roles for the unit; the opener who can hold onto an end, the lower-order accelerator that can take the game away from a looming nemesis, the adversary that can take quick wickets and when nothing’s going right, then simply, an ace spinner who can curtail the flow of easy runs.
And in doing so for eleven straight years, Dane van Niekerk has propelled the Proteas Women to a position of authority, rendered a drastic change in perception of a side that is feared today, a team against whom you do not necessarily exercise any error in misjudgment.
Earlier this year, in February 2020, at the pinnacle of all contests, South Africa overcame a major opponent in England.
A major wrong had been corrected.
Never before had the Proteas Women beaten the English in the T20 World Cup stage. Implicit in the victory was Dane Van Niekerk’s all-round contribution- a fighting 46 from up top, before Mignon’s masterclass in the chase; the fiery six off Brunt; sealed the game her team’s favor.
But a few hours before South Africa were right in the game. Their captain had taken a vital 2-for, removing the dangerous Heather Knight and solid batter Fran Wilson.
All of that being said, a lot of work is still to be done
While South Africa finally reached their biggest moment in Women’s T20 world cup yet, qualifying for the semi-finals (having last made it as far in 2014-edition), a big world cup trophy has, thus far, evaded their grasp.
In 2021, with the ODI World Cup slated to be held in Dane van Niekerk- can the corrective process begin finally?
You’d feel the unit bejeweled with outstanding athleticism and a flurry of records can turn into a domineering force once it plays with a certain consistency and can hold its nerve.
Not a team that plays for revenge or for retaliation, South Africa, it’s not hard to note, only play for pride.
And with the curious leader, one never quite happy with her performances- a fitting tribute if you were to identify a leader for whom every new game is like the first, a field of dreams in which to begin anew- South Africa seem in determined hands.
May the Proteas flag continue to flutter for times to come. Happy 27th El Captain.