“The person I am, I’m quite busy,” says Mignon du Preez, mid way through our interview. We are sitting in a quiet spot on the first floor of the team hotel, away from the sound track of ‘Careless Whisper’ that was playing on loop in the lobby. Du Preez is wearing white shoes, black joggers, and a Proteas Polo shirt. It could be team protocol, but it could just be second nature for her to turn up in kit. After all, she’s been a part of the Proteas team since her debut in 2007 at the age of 18.
Now 30, she’s synonymous with the Proteas team, having led the team in all three formats for nearly six years. If you had to surmise her playing style in one word, ‘busy’ would be it. Knocking the ball around, turning ones into twos with furious running, anchoring innings as the big hitters batted around her, that was du Preez with 'was' being the operative word.
Now, her bow has suddenly grown another string, a powerful one. One that has seen the ball not just cross the boundary line, but fly over it.
“I just think in T20 cricket, I realised the format demanded this,” she said. “Probably in the last season, I didn't have the best season internationally. So I went back to the drawing board, saying this is an area I want to work on.”
The difference, nay transformation, was apparent in the latest edition of England’s domestic T20 professional competition, the Women’s Cricket Super League. In her previous two seasons, du Preez had hit only two sixes. In the 2019 season, she hit 12 in nine innings, propelling her into the list of top 10 six hitters for that competition overall. In internationals, even a small sample size shows a shift.
Before 2019, she had hit 11 sixes in 81 innings in T20Is. This year, she has hit four in her seven innings so far. Three of those came against India in the first T20I in Surat, in her knock of 59 off 43 balls. With 12 needed off the last two balls, du Preez was on strike and India were nervous. Last year, they wouldn’t have been, and that tells you all you need to know about the new du Preez.
What has changed? “It’s a mindset thing, first and foremost,” she says. “There is a place for my normal game, running hard, especially in the middle (overs). But I felt that if I could do that and and add boundary hitting ability, that would put me a step ahead of some of the other players. That was something I wanted to add to my game.” The shift came after a mediocre 2018, where she averaged 20.5, her lowest in five years. So she followed her more explosive teammates like Lizelle Lee and Dane van Niekerk to the middle of the pitch, and discovered she loved range-hitting (who wouldn’t?). By training specifically for that skill, she discovered her power-side with no real change in her strength training program.
Along with that, a technical adjustment also helped her generate power without compromising on her trademark timing. “Something I picked up last year while playing at the KSL was that my hands were moving away from my body, like around first slip, so I was slicing the ball because I was coming inside out. So basically I just had to pull my hands back. I'm quite short, so I don't naturally have a longer lever to work with, but to give myself the best chance I had to pull my hands back. That actually gave me a longer lever and fuller range.”
Her new mindset has brought her a new perspective while in the middle, even changing the way she looks at fields. “In the past I tended to look at a specific area, like deep square, and think ‘I have to sweep the next ball’. Now I would look at the gap but wouldn’t think of the specific shot. Whether it means I have to use my body, or jump across and use my crease, there’s a lot of different options to get the ball in that area.”
South Africa’s stand-in captain Sune Luus joked at a press conference that the transformation in du Preez has come about because she recently turned thirty. While everyone laughed, it is not entirely far from the truth.
“Any sportsperson's career has an expiry date,” du Preez responded. “I turned 30, I know there's going to be a time when I'm going to retire, but for me, I want to make the last few years the best. I want to play a brand that I can enjoy, I want to have fun. Women’s cricket now has become quite professional, we're on the road for quite a bit of time, and we spend more time away from our families. So this needs to be a place I can enjoy my game.”
It certainly looks like she’s having more fun. The new playing style fits her as well as the Proteas Polo. From India, du Preez will fly to Australia for the Women’s Big Bash League, where she will play for the Melbourne Stars, gaining critical experience ahead of the T20 Women’s World Cup in 2020. If her showing in England and India is anything to go by, expect du Preez to keep fielders on the boundary busy.
Snehal Pradhan is a former India cricketer, and now a commentator and journalist. She hosts ‘Cricket With Snehal’ on YouTube, and tweets @SnehalPradhan.
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BCCI president Sourav Ganguly had earlier confirmed that the Women’s T20 Challenge will take place this year in November, during the men’s Indian Premier League.
With the COVID-19 cases rising rapidly in India, it is not even clear when the players can assemble for a training camp.
Harmanpreet Kaur displayed her brutal power game when she smashed 171 off just 115 balls, on 20 July 2017, in the all-important semi-final clash against Australia at the ICC Women's Cricket World Cup in England.