Dane Van Niekerk has been captain of the Proteas since 2016 when the previous skipper, Mignon du Preez stepped down. The Daily Vox team chatted to her about her role as captain of the Proteas, being a woman in a male dominated field, and more.
Van Niekerk, who is a leg-spinning all-rounder, made her One Day International (ODI) debut for South Africa during the 2009 World Cup at the age of 16.
She started playing cricket in the backyard with her dad and brother and fell in love with the game.
“My dad saw my talent and he took me a club and I got some private coaching. I was very fortunate that my parents could provide me with that. I got through all the ranks and here I am today.”
As for what made her fall in love with the game?
Van Niekerk says growing up in South Africa, you grow up with mostly rugby, cricket or soccer.
“We loved watching cricket. My dad took us to games as much as he could and I think I just fell in love with the sport itself and what it brings. I am very lucky to be able to play cricket if I can put it like that.”
Van Niekerk is a leg spinner for the Proteas but that wasn’t the position she originally imagined playing.
“As a young kid you know you always want to be fast bowler and as fast as possible. But my dad always told us there aren’t a lot of spinners in the country. So why don’t you try and spin? You know I held the ball a certain way and the ball came out in a leg spinner. I guess I fell into the skill if I can say it like that.”
Van Niekerk holds the record for the highest ever undefeated partnership in women’s international T20 history. She was also one of the first female cricketers to be included in the Eastern Province Cricket Academy, playing alongside male cricketers.
Speaking about the gender pay gap that exists in cricket and most South African sports, Van Niekerk says it can be a difficult pill to swallow.
“You know you work hard, you represent your country, you’re away from home a lot. So sometimes you feel a bit like you know what you’re doing is not as important or as good or whatever. But at the end of the day it is what it is. You know it’s not something that happened in my generation, it happened before my generation and unfortunately we are now sitting with that problem. It’s getting better but I don’t think it will be equal anytime soon.”
Being a woman in sport can be difficult just like being a woman in society is. Van Niekerk says it is challenging at times.
“You know first of all, getting your sport out there for the world to see and for your country to see is hard because you don’t get as much televised games or whatever. You have to promote yourself sometimes. Promotion of the game has picked up obviously but I think if you have to compare it to men’s cricket at the moment or men’s sport in general, they obviously get a bit more support and a bit more advertisement and all that. So I think that’s a big challenge in women’s sports at the moment.”
On the lighter side of things, Van Niekerk says she doesn’t have any pre-game rituals as she doesn’t believe in those things, and believes in just taking things as they come.
And who are her favourite players? Well that honour goes to AB De Villiers and Virat Kohli.
“AB is just an absolute genius and Virat Kohli as well. It’s just nice watching them and seeing them going about their business. You can always learn something from them. They’re the best at the moment and you can see that. They always strive for more and as a player you always want to do that.”
Favourite place to play? “At the moment is Supersport Park because I was born and bred there and I have fond memories there.”
Van Niekerk was made captain in 2016 and says it was a big honour.
“It’s something I’ve worked for for a very long time. I didn’t expect it to come so early obviously but look, it’s a huge honour. I’m still pinching myself knowing that I’m leading my country.”
She also thinks it’s important to lead from the front.
“It’s just more responsibility. You know you always want to lead from the front as the captain and that’s what I try to do – lead from the front with performances. And you know inspiring the team has obviously changed the way I play the game.”
And as for advice for aspiring cricketers, Van Niekerk says if you love the game to stick with.
“I think you know [if I knew] now what I know when I was younger I probably would have been a better cricketer. Keep working hard at it. You know you will never be perfect at cricket but strive to be perfect. And enjoy the game. It’s a lovely game – it will always give you something back if you respect it.”