WWhile many of the world’s leading cricketers will be surfing straight to the ladies of the hundreds of Commonwealth Games where they’ll be match-ready and tournament-ready, Dane van Niekerk will be anything but. Since lifting last year’s trophy as captain of the Indomitable Ovals, South Africa has played only 25 times and hasn’t played at all since November, and their year so far has been completely ruined by a bizarre dog-feeding incident just weeks before the World Cup in March.
“I do a lot of stupid things, but it probably wasn’t one of the best decisions I could make near the World Cup,” van Niekerk says. “Marizan [Kapp, her wife and teammate with both South Africa and the Invincibles] He always tells me that I am free-headed. It was a strange and honest accident. It was raining and I was on the wooden deck outside the house. I needed to get off to feed my dogs and I tried to get off the ledge, and when I did that my feet slipped. I heard a crackling sound, and I knew right away that this was my World Cup.
I still hate myself to this day. If I had just made one decision in a different split second, I could have been there and maybe helped my team, make a little bit of a difference. This is life and this is how I learn.”
One phrase stands out in Van Niekerk’s description of her accident. She made her international debut at the age of 15 and 13 thereafter, standing 20 years short of being South Africa’s top scorer in T20, and ranking third on the list of top wicket players in her country in both the T20s and ODIs (Kapp She is No. 2 in both formats) and a highly respected captain. It seems surprising that such a brilliant and casually successful athlete, for seemingly trivial reasons, admits to feelings of self-loathing.
“I’m my worst critic, and sometimes my worst enemy too,” she says. “I will always be my worst critic because I still expect better from me and more than I give. Sometimes I’m a loose cannon and I don’t think so. At that moment there was a staircase next to me but I wanted to go down. When it rains do you do that? The truth is that I needed to support my team in any way I could. possible, and I wasn’t there. That’s why I resent myself, because I wanted to be there.”
Van Niekerk speaks quickly and always in an optimistic tone. When asked to describe herself in one word, she chose “sense of humor.” But she uses the same tone when describing events that clearly aren’t — and since 2019, when a stress fracture in the right femur became the first of a string of injuries, there have been plenty of those.
“At that point, I was very close to being the best I could be as a cricketer,” she says. “I always tell people that something should have stopped me and then brought me back to Earth and it actually happened. I am not grateful for that, but it set the record straight. After that, it was a continuation of injuries and mentally, it took a heavy toll on me.
“I lost my grandparents in a couple of months in 2020, right after dealing with another injury. It was one after another. People think that you are strong, that you are a leader and you can’t collapse, but we all have breaking points and sometimes you reach one without even realizing it.”
No one could be in a better position to understand and support Van Niekerk’s problems through her than Kapp, her partner of 13 years – they married in 2018 – and her co-star at 163 out of 194 international appearances. “We are 100% the complete opposite, that’s a fact. We have two things in common but are completely opposite in the way we think about things,” says van Niekerk.
“I’m lucky to have someone like her in my life who understands me. I don’t think many people would be able to. I’ve watched the losses taken, not only physically but mentally as well, and it’s hard to be there for someone when there’s no one around.” Same thing. The fact that she understands the stress and tension of the injury, it makes it a little easier. I’m so grateful she was a brace for me.”
Last week, Van Niekerk posted an Instagram video of her bowling to cap in the net, and those injuries may now be over. “I’m happy with the skill, I’m satisfied with where I stand,” she says. “It was practical but I got there.” She and Cap, who had returned home before the Commonwealth Games when her brother-in-law had an accident and admitted to getting intensive care with serious burns – he’s now out of danger and on his way to recovery – left the house on Saturday in order to fly to London, and he should be available when The Invincibles opens the Hundred Women’s Tournament in Oval against the Northern Superchargers on Thursday.
“At the start of last year’s championship, I didn’t know what to expect,” she says. “A hundred balls, what is that? Is it cricket or not? But I loved it because tactically it really challenges you, it changes the way you think. I really enjoyed it, and I think most players did.
“Also the fans that came out, how buoyant they were, the support all the teams had – not just the males not the females, every team, every crowd was really close to jamming. It was so electric. I think it’s a stronger league this year, and I can’t wait to get back into the there “.