Someone’s going to have to pay for the joy of seeing Laura
It’s a thing of beauty, a slash of bat meets ball that arrests all who see it ... but who’s shelling out for it?
You could get yourself into trouble writing about Laura Wolvaardt’s cover drive, especially if you’re a man of a certain age. What the hell. Here goes …
It’s a thing of beauty, a dead sexy slash of bat meets ball that arrests all who see it.
It starts with dancing feet, head set, eyes seeing the immediate future, hands held somewhere near her right ear. It ends with her hands having followed the breathtaking curve of her bat all the way round to her left ear.
The ball, at this point, is streaking away to fulfill Wolvaardt’s vision. Every right-hander’s cover drive does something like that, you say. But Wolvaardt’s sets itself apart with its elegant urgency and the purposefulness of its passion. It rises so far above trifles like gender that to compare it with others, as played be men, women or gods, would be an insult.
Something similar is true when she plays the cut and the on-drive, and when she swivels on her heels to muscle the ball through midwicket.
SA’s captain, Dané van Niekerk, has rightly recognised Wolvaardt’s “fearlessness”. To think she won’t be 20 until April next year.
Ah, so that’s it. Which 19-year-old isn’t fearless, you say. None. But this one played her first one-day international at 16, scored her first ODI century at 17, and is the youngest South African to reach 1,000 runs in the format.
And who might not score many more.
Wolvaardt was head girl last year at Parklands in Cape Town, where she earned seven distinctions despite the significant distraction of playing in the World Cup in England plonked into the middle of her matric year.
This was to have been her first year at Stellenbosch, where she is enrolled as a medical student.
But, as we speak, she’s in St Lucia with the rest of South Africa’s World T20 (WT20) squad, hoping rain doesn’t wash away their tournament opener against Sri Lanka on Tuesday. The real world, it seems, can wait.
“I haven’t entirely sorted out the next few years of my life just yet, but I’m kind of taking it one year at a time,” Wolvaardt said in an interview with the BBC’s Sportshour.
“I’m talking to the university now to see if there’s anything we can do, because I don’t really want to stop my cricket right now. It seems like a stupid time to stop playing cricket and retire. Hopefully we can find a solution that will make everyone happy.”
Might winning the WT20 be that solution?
“Maybe if we win I’ll decide, ‘This is what I want to do’. Maybe, if we lose, I’ll just become more hungry to win.”
Sounds like cricket is winning that argument. But for how long?
“The maximum number of years I can postpone [studying] is two. I’ve already postponed for one year and if they could allow me to postpone it another year … If I want to continue postponing, they said, it would take some extreme intervention thing.”
Like the marketing value of having a member of the WT20-winning team among its students? “That could work. They can see [women’s cricket] is not Mickey Mouse – it’s a real thing.”
Until three years ago that wasn’t the case in a grown-up sense. Then Cricket SA (CSA), not least because of pressure applied by the SA Cricketers’ Association (SACA), contracted women as players for the first time. Sometimes even the suits get things right.
Women still earn exponentially less than their male peers, an unfairness that can be nailed to the doors of cricket’s consumers – you and I – because more of us prefer to watch men play, which creates a disparity in sponsorship and rights revenues between the men’s and women’s game. But at least women are now on the ladder of professionalism in SA.
“It has drastically improved since I joined the side, especially in SA with the new memorandum [of understanding between CSA and SACA],” Wolvaardt said.
“[Playing cricket] has become a proper career option for us, so I guess that has influenced my decision to stay in cricket a bit longer. It’s definitely getting better and I can only imagine the future is going to very bright in the sport.”
But the fact that Wolvaardt is at a crossroads about her future tells us much more than the fact that she is a seriously and variously talented young woman.
WG Grace was a doctor. So was Ali Bacher. But no male cricketer in SA has juggled a proper job with playing at a high level since, probably, Errol Stewart. That’s if being a lawyer, as Stewart is, can be considered proper.
Thing is, Stewart played his last game for SA in 2003. Even then he was considered unusual: he also played rugby for the Sharks and had a pilot’s licence.
But no one is surprised to hear that, until far more recently than men, women in SA haven’t been able to call cricket a career. If they did, someone would have asked, justifiably, “Cool, but what are you going to do for money?” That’s still the case in most other sports.
“That’s always something that women in sport have had to deal with,” Wolvaardt said. “But, slowly but surely, it’s starting to change. In the past England and Australia were always the big names. Now other sides like India and SA are starting to play really good cricket because we’re able to put more time and focus into it.”
Wolvaardt says her family want her to “choose whatever makes me happy”. Her other family, the one in the dressing room, have earned her respect.
“I feel bad for the older players, who are only getting these perks at the end of their careers. But I’ll always be grateful to them for putting in the hard work before to make sure we get these advantages.”
Well done to all who’ve raised her: bloody good job. But the credit for that cover drive is all Wolvaardt’s. Let’s appreciate it while we have it.