WWhile many of the world’s best cricketers will surf directly to the Ladies of the Hundreds, who are hard-working and ready for the championship, Dane van Niekerk will be anything but. Since winning the title as captain of Oval Invincibles last year, South Africa has played only 25 times and hasn’t played at all since November. Their year so far has been completely ruined by a bizarre dog-feeding incident a few weeks before the World Championships in March.
“I do a lot of stupid things, but it probably wasn’t one of the best decisions I could have made so close to the World Cup,” van Niekerk says. “Marizan [Kapp, her wife and teammate with both South Africa and the Invincibles] He always tells me I’m a bobble head. It was an honest and crazy accident. It was raining and I was on the wooden deck in front of the house. I had to get down to feed my dogs and tried to climb off the ledge and my feet came off. I heard a crack and knew right away that this was my world championship.
“I still hate myself to this day. If I had made a decision in a split second differently, I could have been there and maybe help my team, and make a small difference. This is life and this is how I learn.”
One sentence stands out in Van Niekerk’s description of her accident. She made her international debut at the age of 15 and 13 thereafter aged 20 having become the leading scorer in the women’s T20 race in South Africa and ranked third on her country’s list of top wicket makers in both the T20s and also in the ODIs ( Kapp is a No. 2 in both forms) and is a well-respected leader. It seems amazing that such a brilliant and successful athlete should casually and for seemingly trivial reasons admit feelings of self-loathing.
“I’m my worst critic and sometimes my worst enemy,” she says. “I will always be my worst critic because I still expect better from myself and more than what I give. Sometimes I’m a loose cannon and don’t think. At that moment there was a set of stairs next to me, but I wanted to go down. When it rains do you do that? The truth is that I needed support My team any way I could, and I wasn’t there. That’s why I’m mad at myself for wanting to be there.”
Van Niekerk speaks quickly and always with a cheerful tone. When asked to describe herself in one word, she chose “sense of humor.” But she uses the same tone when describing events that clearly aren’t – and there have been many since 2019, when the stress fracture in her right thigh became the first in a string of injuries.
“At that point, I was on the verge of being the best cricketer,” she says. “I always tell people that something has to stop me from putting me back on Earth, and it really did. I’m not grateful for that, but it set the record straight. After that it was a continuation of the injuries and mentally it took me a lot.”
“I lost my grandparents within two months of each other in 2020, soon after dealing with another injury. It was one after another. People think you’re strong, that you’re a leader and you can’t collapse, but we all have our own breaking points and sometimes it’s up to one. without realizing it.”
No one could be in a better position to understand and support Van Niekerk’s suffering than Cap, her partner of 13 years – they married in 2018 – and teammate of 163 out of 194 caps. “We’re 100% the opposite, that’s a fact. We have some things in common, but we’re totally opposed to the way we think about things,” van Niekerk says.
“I’m glad I have someone like her in my life who understands me. I don’t think many people would be able to do that. I’ve watched the losses taken on me, not only physically but mentally, and it’s hard to be there for someone when there’s no one around.” Same thing. The fact that she understands the stress and pressure of the injury makes it a little easier. I’m so grateful she was a brace for me.”
Last week, Van Niekerk posted an Instagram video of her bowling with Kapp in the net, and the injury streak may now be over. “I am happy in terms of ability, and I am satisfied with where I stand,” she says. “It was practical, but I got there.” She and Cap, who were returning home before the Commonwealth Games when their brother-in-law had an accident and was admitted to intensive care with severe burns – now out of danger and on his way to recovery – have left their home. Home on Saturday to fly to London and should be available when Invincibles opens Thursday Oval’s Hundreds of Ladies competition against Northern Superchargers.
“At the start of last year’s tournament, I didn’t know what to expect,” she says. “One Hundred Bullets, what is that? Is it cricket or not? But I loved it because it’s a challenge for you tactically, it changes the way you think. I really enjoyed my time and I think most players did.
“Also the fans that came out, how buoyant they were, the support all the teams had – not just the men and not just the women, every team, every crowd was so packed. It was so electrifying. I think it’s a stronger league this year and I can’t wait to get back out there.”