In a team with four bona fide openers, Laura Wolvaardt and Lizelle Lee are always under pressure to do well at the top of the South African order. So far, they seem to be shaping up nicely as a combo. They have crossed 50 in five of their last six innings together, with two century stands. In just 11 innings, they already have the most runs by an opening pair for their country.
It is easy to stereotype Lee as the power-hitter (she has the second most sixes in ODIs) and Wolvaardt as the accumulator (an average of 45 with a strike-rate of 61 at the age of 18). But their games have other facets too. And so do their lives outside cricket.
Lee is studying to teach engineering drawing. Wolvaardt may not be playing cricket this time next year, as she might take up studies in medicine. Firstpost caught up with the pair to chat about their combination, careers and more.
Here are the excerpts from the interview:
FP: How different are you as people, and in your education?
Wolvaardt: I am still at high school, and she is slightly older than me. She is in the University.
FP: That sounds like Laura is taking a dig at you, Lizelle.
Wolvaardt: (Laughs) No, that was not meant like that. She is studying in the University to be a teacher, and I am still finishing my matric year. I’m still hoping to get into med school and then will have to make a decision – cricket or medicine. She is actually the perfect example, because she is combining both her education and cricket.
FP: Why medicine?
Wolvaardt: It has always been medicine.
FP: Is anyone in your family into medicine?
Wolvaardt: No, just like that.
FP: What did you think of first, medicine or cricket?
Wolvaardt: Growing up, it was school. I have been good at school; it was the main thing, and cricket was something that I did just for fun after school. But recently, cricket has become more serious and I am like, ‘oh, I can actually do this as a career.’ So, that kind of messed up my plans a little bit. But it’s okay, it’s a good thing.
Lee: Messed up in a good way.
Wolvaardt: Yeah, good way. It’s a good problem to have.
FP: How are your games different from each other?
Lee: A lot of people say that (I am the aggressor). But if you have a look at (our numbers), she can score the boundaries as easily as she would like. The same with me, if we have to get the singles, we can do it. I think that, in a way, just helps. If one day, I am struggling to hit the boundary then she would do it. And, if she is struggling then I would do it. So, I think that is one of the reasons why we are batting together. I am enjoying it.
FP: The openers have been an area of concern for South Africa in the past.
Wolvaardt: We have a lot of people who can open the innings. Sune Luus can open, Trisha (Chetty) can also open. It’s a recent trend that she (Lee) started opening.
Lee: When I started, I was opening. But then I went to No 5 and now am back opening.
Wolvaardt: Basically, anyone can bat anywhere.
FP: Lizelle, tell us about your teaching training?
Lee: I am studying engineering and design. It is a lot of computer stuff. I am going to teach children after that, I am going to educate them how to draw things on paper. If you go to advance school then we are going to do it in computer.
I have studied for four years at North-West University in Potchefstroom. When I had to finish my last semester, we had a tour against India (in 2014). It was the first time I was going to play a Test match. So, I thought I will just put that (education) aside and do the Test thing, and did that. I took a two-year break and I still have to complete it.
FP: Do you see cricket ground as a canvas where you can draw?
Lee: (Laughs) To be honest, I don’t think about drawing when I go to a cricket ground. This is the one place where I can shut down from anything from outside and focus on what I have to do.
FP: Laura, medicine is a stable career, while there is uncertainty in cricket because of injuries and form. Does that weigh in favour of medicine even after contracts have come in?
Wolvaardt: It is definitely hard to think about what I have to think because (being a) doctor is a very stable career for a long time. My thought is that maybe I could do cricket for a few years, and do the medicine after. I can comeback to medicine, but I cannot necessarily comeback to cricket. If I am going to study for seven-eight years then (coming back to cricket) I am going be fat by that time (grins).
Lee: (Laughs) I don’t think that will be case.
FP: Alex Blackwell (Australian cricketer) was doing medicine part-time with cricket, but then she only completed a science degree and became a genetic counselor as opposed to a doctor. Have you thought along those lines?
Wolvaardt: My second choice is Bachelor of Science in Human Biology. I have already been accepted in that, and it could be an option. I am just waiting to hear from medical schools because it is a very competitive degree to get into. They haven’t decided yet, they should decide around October and then I can decide.
FP: What would be something you both would want to take from each other’s game?
Wolvaardt: She could hit the ball a lot further than I can. She has hit some of the biggest sixes I have seen. She can hit over extra-cover. It’s crazy, and I want to do that too.
FP: But your height is your advantage. It gives you a bigger reach while batting.
Wolvaardt: Yeah, she is a bit shorter than me.
FP: There’s that dig again…
Lee: (Laughs it off) I just want to hit the ball as nicely as she does. Sometimes when she is driving the ball through the covers, even on the up, she just has such a good technique. I would wish to add that.
FP: All this ribbing of each other… Is it how you talk in the middle as well?
Wolvaardt: Kind of. Yeah, we would like to keep it light-hearted. We can’t be too serious.
Lee: If one stresses a bit, the other calms things down a bit. We like to take it as easy as possible. I think that helps a lot.
FP: It’s common in women’s cricket to see players with a variety of backgrounds. Almost everyone has a life outside the game, so you see things differently. How much does life outside cricket help you both switch off after a high-intensity session?
Wolvaardt: For me, personally it helps. Sometimes, I play better if I take a bit of a break from the game. Sometimes, if it is cricket, cricket, cricket, cricket every single second of every day, you kind of just go through the motions sometimes. So, sometimes it is good to step back a little, do something and come back to it. Maybe think about something else.
Lee: That’s actually true. What happened to me in the past is when I had too much cricket I started working on stuff I should not be. You become too technical and you overthink everything. Getting a break for a little while and coming back, you will see you are much better even. Having that break in between and having something to do outside of cricket is a good thing.
FP: But women’s cricket is heading towards a direction where it is all professional so we might not see this variety in the future.
Wolvaardt: I guess that probably will happen eventually. The men seem to handle it okay, so I am sure we will be fine (grins).
Lee: We are there now where things are starting to get better and better. You take it day by day. We, kind of, are the guinea pigs and we are managing it well, so far. Even few years from now, if you take it just day by day and make sure you don’t forget where you come from and you have things outside of cricket. That will just add to the performance.
FP: How different are your pre-innings routine?
Wolvaardt: Pretty similar, actually. We don’t hit balls or anything.
Lee: She plays a bit with a golf ball (gestures tapping the ball on the bat). I sometimes play with a cricket ball.
Wolvaardt: She, sometimes, takes a mini nap.
Lee: Yeah, I sometimes nap between innings.
Wolvaardt: (Laughs) She likes to switch off a little.
Lee: I literally sleep and dream.
FP: Are you aware that VVS Laxman used to sleep and then go for a shower just before going out to bat?
Lee: Oh! Really? That’s funny. I am actually filling in some big shoes now.
Wolvaardt: No, pressure.
FP: So you must be unhappy with the shorter break of only 30 minutes between innings now?
Wolvaardt: She naps for only 15 minutes now.
Lee: (Laughing) I try not to nap now. I try to get my game face on.
FP: Which partnership have you enjoyed, so far?
Lee: I won’t single out any one, but the last three we have had together here have been among the best. Two over 100 and one 51*, where we finished the game. It was the first time that we started to go some rhythm.
Snehal Pradhan is a former India cricketer and now a freelance journalist. She hosts the series ‘Cricket How To’ on YouTube, and tweets @SnehalPradhan