Proteas women’s star opening batter Laura Wolvaardt has enjoyed a superb ICC Women’s World Cup so far and is hoping to help lead her side to a maiden 50-over title in New Zealand.
Despite her age, Wolvaardt is a seasoned member of the Proteas side, having made her debut as a 16-year-old school girl in 2016. This is her second appearance at a 50- over World Cup, while she has also competed in two T20 World Cups. When she first started representing her country, it was quite a juggling act to negotiate her school and national commitments.
“It was a bit difficult, especially because I really enjoyed my school work and took a lot of pride in my studies. So it wasn’t easy to combine cricket as well, but I would kind of break it up into phases,” said Wolvaardt.
“So when I was on cricket tour I would focus on the cricket and when I was back at school I would have early and late tutorials to catch up everything that I had missed.
“But it was only matric that was really tough because I missed all of my June exams and then had to write them during this prelim period, so it was tricky.”
Wolvaardt firmly announced herself on the international scene in just her seventh ODI, in August 2016, when she became the youngest South African to hit an international century, when she scored 105 against Ireland. Even though she was still just 16, the feat never went to her head.
“I didn’t know about that until after it happened. I was just playing the game because I really enjoyed it.
“I didn’t know what the records were or who had scored hundreds, I was just playing for fun,” said Wolvaardt.
“So, it was really cool when I found out that I had broken that record. But it didn’t put any real pressure on me as I was just playing because I really loved the game.”
After finishing school Wolvaardt tried to go to university, but soon found out that she would have to make a big decision on whether to continue her education or become a professional cricket star. She chose the latter and is now considered to be one of the premium opening batters in the world.
“At first I got into med school and started studying medicine at Stellenbosch and about two months in I realised that it wasn’t going to work at all to combine cricket and medicine,” said Wolvaardt.
“So they gave me two years of deferment to my studies, so that I could focus purely on the cricket and then the plan was to go back to Stellenbosch after two years and continue my degree.
“But that hasn’t happened because the cricket has gone really well and took off and I just felt I was in a place in my career where I couldn’t stop.”
So, at the age of 22 Wolvaardt has already amassed over 100 Proteas caps, including 72 ODIs and 33 T20s, and she could easily become a legend of the game if she decides to play into her 30s.
“The plan is to keep playing as long as possible. But I will have to see what happens throughout my career. Maybe when I’m 28 and feel I have to go back to medicine or something like that,” said Wolvaardt.
“But so far I am loving my cricket. I am really enjoying the challenge of competing with some of the best players in the world and trying to become one of the best, so I am definitely not stopping anytime soon.”
It was at the 2017 50-over World Cup that South Africa officially announced themselves as a serious contender in the women’s game when they made the semifinals and almost upset eventual champions England. Since then, they have been steadily building to the current edition and now are perfectly placed to challenge for the title.
“I think we have pretty much the same core group which is really good because a lot of our players have been around for a long time and are very experienced,” said Wolvaardt.
“I think what has changed since then is we have more self-belief. We have had a really good past two or three seasons as a group and we are starting to believe that we are right up there with the best in the world.
“We can really compete for a spot in and win the final. Last time we came so close in the semifinals and I think that set the benchmark for us to achieve that again and try go one or even two places further this time.”