With the South African cricket team spending the weeks leading up to the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in New Zealand, they were in the country at the same time as the Indian men’s team, which were taking on the Black Caps.
The chance of the two teams running into each other was high and when they did, the Proteas Women were all keen to get a picture with one particular player, Virat Kohli.
Hard-hitting batter Laura Wolvaardt nabbed the Indian captain in the hotel foyer and immediately shared her happy snap on social media. Hovering in the background were three laughing faces who no doubt wanted to be a lot closer to the action.
“It was an awesome photobomb,” all-rounder Suné Luus said later from Mount Maunganui, where the team played the first game of their Twenty20 (T20) series against New Zealand as part of their World Cup preparations. “It’s Virat Kohli, and we all wanted a picture with him. We were just too nervous to go and ask him for a picture,” she confessed.
It was a slice of life moment from the South African changing room, which is in a better place than most of its compatriots. Winning, of course, helps greatly. When Luus spoke to New Frame, they had just wrapped up a 3-0 one-day international series (ODI) win over New Zealand and the points they accrued on the ICC Women’s Championship Table confirmed their place at next year’s ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup.
“With everything going on back home, we just came here and wanted to focus on the cricket. We knew it was important to get the six points for qualification for next year’s 50-overs World Cup, and it was great to seal a whitewash,” said Luus.
“Everything” back home was in reference to a summer of seismic change in South African cricket. But off the field, things have come to a head. And being able to worry purely about bat and ball has surely been refreshing.
The South Africa Women’s team slipped out of the country with little ceremony to finalise their preparations for the T20 World Cup, which takes place in Australia from 21 February to the final on International Women’s Day on 8 March at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Underdog with a mean bite
The squad are happy to come into the tournament as underdogs, well aware that they pack considerable punch when it matters.
“The team is in a very good space,” said Luus. “We work really hard and we have a great vibe going. I think that shows in the results. We are also really enjoying being labelled the underdogs. But I see that a few opposition captains have already said they see us as the dark horses,” she added, well aware of the respect that a full-strength South African team still garners.
It has been a tough year or so for the side, with injuries forcing them to play several series at nowhere near their full potential. Those losses and lessons have come in handy though, and now the experienced core of the side is back for another charge at an international title.
“It’s really great to have our team back together. We have not been at full strength since the 2017 World Cup in England,” said Luus.
That tournament saw the Proteas Women come within an inch of becoming the second South African side to make it into a World Cup final. The first was the men’s blind cricket team that lifted the trophy in 1998. The Proteas Women fell just short and the following ICC tournament was one of disappointment, with injuries to key players not helping in terms of continuity.
Now the old firm is back in business. There is a streak of ruthlessness across the team, who are well aware that this exceptional generation of players will hang up their boots at some point.
“It is so good having Marizanne [Kapp] and Dane [van Niekerk] back in the changing room,” said Luus. Both are highly respected players who have added richly to their experience with star showings in the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia as well as stints playing in the United Kingdom. They will be coveted names for team owners when the women’s Indian Premier League takes off.
“They just have so much experience and cricket knowledge,” said Luus. She deputised as captain while they were away and found the experience to be fun, but extremely challenging. Luus is bubbly and engaging whenever she steps into a room – unless Kohli is in attendance, of course – and she has embraced the experiences cricket has thrown at her, well aware that the game is evolving all the time.
Expanding her knowledge
During the second edition of the Mzansi Super League (MSL), she became the first media ambassador for the Tshwane Spartans, providing a different perspective into what goes on behind the scenes.
“I was just looking for a bit of work experience, to be honest, and would have taken whatever was available. But the Spartans media team then came up with this position and it kind of evolved into something really cool.”
Now there is talk that some of the other MSL franchises are looking to incorporate women cricketers into their operations, as they are a far more natural fit for the cricket market than social media influencers. It’s a step in a positive direction for Luus and her teammates, bringing them further into the mainstream cricket consciousness.
“Being able to hang out with the likes of AB de Villiers and Mark Boucher, and pick their brains on how they approach things, was just an awesome experience for me. The whole squad was really accommodating,” she said of her time in the Spartans camp.
Spinning her way into glory
Luus has rekindled the spark in her own game, especially with the ball. As a legspinner, she knows all too well that there will be tough days at the office. During the third ODI against New Zealand, she triggered the South African win with her second six-wicket haul in ODI cricket. But it could have been a very different outcome, especially after a bad first over.
“I didn’t expect to get another over after my first one went for 17 runs,” she said. “But Dane really backs me and, as a leggie herself, she knows how quickly things can turn.”
Turn they did, and the Luus’ spell of six for 45 bamboozled New Zealand and sealed the series whitewash for the Proteas Women.
“My confidence is definitely back. I have worked really hard and I am enjoying it again,” she said of her bowling technique.
In whatever format of the game, quality wrist spin can always have a decisive effect on proceedings as it is unplayable when you get it right. Skipper Van Niekerk knows this only too well, and she knows that she has a real weapon in Luus.
Balance is a big part of the Proteas Women’s setup and they place a lot of emphasis on laughter in the squad during their downtime, and being conscious of how far they have come as a team. That collective spirit and collected approach is something they will want to take into the T20 World Cup, where teams can often tighten up under pressure.
Luus, by virtue of her playing style, experience and personality, is one of the natural vibe creators in the team. She engages, pokes fun and photobombs herself into situations whenever she can. She keeps things Luus, so to speak.
This has traditionally been a most unSouth African thing to do in tournament cricket. But the 2020 Proteas Women’s squad that has its sights set on the latter stages in Australia will happily take more of the same as they seek to make history.