After South Africa’s opening loss to the Women’s World T20 defending champions, Australia, on Friday (18 March) the players got into a circle just outside the boundary. A team huddle is not an unusual sight in cricket but this one was different. All of a sudden all the players went down on one knee. Some words were said, mostly by captain Mignon du Preez, and then they all bowed their heads. They seemed to be praying.
Most huddles signify a common purpose. This one signified a higher purpose. The huddle was sealed with more than the hands of comradeship on tired shoulders. It was sealed with faith in a higher power, in the power of the game, and faith in themselves.
The skipper’s Twitter profile has the words, ‘Your talent is God’s gift to you, what you do with it is your gift back to God’. It is clear that besides patriotism, faith is a big factor in holding this team together and in keeping them motivated. It shines through Marizanne Kapp as well. Not just through her words, laden with sincerity and joy, while maintaining professionalism. It shines through way she conducts herself on the field, the many times the hashtag #Blessed appears on her Twitter feed, and the tiny cross that dangles from her neck.
Kapp has a reputation of being a fitness freak. She gyms for fun, runs for fun, and plays every sport, for fun. It’s not surprising. Her parents’ idea of spending time with children after work was taking them on one kilometre runs. That was when Kapp was just seven. You get the picture.
“In primary school, my sisters and I played every single sport. When in high school, I went to gym every night with my mother. Every night.”
Kapp’s parents Nereda and Pieter were marathoners. It fits that their ideas of family time should revolve around running and gym. “It’s a family thing, the fitness”.
Kapp has represented Eastern Province in cricket, biathlon, life saving, net ball, cross country, and swimming as well. But cricket always had a special place in her heart. “The other sports were something I did just so I didn’t have to sit at home after school. But cricket was special. Playing other sports was an effort but I never missed training in cricket, I always enjoyed it the most. Now I’m lucky enough to have a professional contract to play cricket.”
The contracts she talks about were introduced by Cricket South Africa in 2013 and Kapp was one of the six players to first seal the deals. The pool of contracted players has since grown to 14. The contracts have allowed Kapp to move straight from her student years into a life of a professional athlete, and have certainly played a part in her development as a player. She made her debut back in 2009, as a 19 year old in the women’s World Cup which was held in Australia and is now a key figure in the South African side, opening the bowling and batting in the top five. She is also one of only six women in South Africa team to score an ODI hundred.
It was these skills that made the Kapp a sought-after name in the inaugural WBBL. She was signed by the Sydney Sixers, and was instrumental in their nine-match winning streak that saw them rocket from the bottom of the table into the final. Though they eventually lost, Kapp finished with 17 wickets and on top of the economy rate chart (among players who played more than 3 matches).
But one doesn’t become one of the world’s top all-rounders just on talent. Kapp is very strict with her workouts and diet. “At home, my meals consist mostly of a massive salad. I’m a vegetarian and I don’t eat any fried stuff or sauces either. Just really clean food. We (the team) went to a fast-food chain the other night and I was telling the girls, what am I supposed to eat?”
“Even before contracts, I worked really hard at my game. I would be in the in the gym, seven days of a week, even Sundays, besides cricket. On some days I wouldn’t feel like hitting balls but I never missed gym.” It’s no surprise that Kapp was a head and shoulders ahead of the pack when it came to fitness in the South Africa team. “When I started, it (the fitness culture in the team) was shocking! But now we finally have a team that buys into the thought that we want to be fit. You can’t come to a place like India if you’re not fit.
“We are amazed at watching the men’s games, how agile and quick they are, and we want to be there. It’s not going to happen overnight though, we have to work towards something like that. Few of us really want to be the best, not just an average cricketer, we want to take this team forward. If ou want to be average I’m happy for you to be that, but then there is no space for you in this team.”
Along with individual efforts from some of the players, CSA also deserves some credit for raising the standards. In the winter months, the players assemble in the national academy, where in the first month they work only on fitness and from the second month, start incorporating skills as well. The result is that South Africa have become one of the better fielding sides in the tournament.
The team has set high goals for the tournament, despite the first loss. “This time around, we want to make it all the way to the top”, Du Preez had said before their first game.
Kapp is optimistic about the team’s chances. “Last WT20 we started terribly, but we picked up as the games went on.” South Africa were comprehensive in their win against Ireland on Wednesday (23 March), and face table-toppers New Zealand on Saturday in a must-win game. But win or lose, Kapp shows a lot of faith in her team.
Faith is something that this South African team is not short on. The moon is associated with night but it is in the sky during the day as well. Similarly, faith is often associated with religion but is independent of it. More often than not, faith comes from having done the hard yards, having people you trust around you, and having a dream that is bigger than yourself. It is such a faith that Marizanne Kapp and the South Africa team are riding on in their journey at this WT20. And it is likely to take them far, not just in the competition, but in the journey of life too.