The South African opening batters, very different yet similar characters, open up about their camaraderie, careers and choices.
The way they laugh at each other’s expense and the younger one takes digs at her senior showcases the chemistry they share, similar to Pakistan’s Nahida Khan and Ayesha Zafar – one measured, the other chirpy.
“They [Lizelle Lee and Laura Wolvaardt] are opposites, to be honest. Lizelle is a bit subdued and a bit quiet. They come out among people they are comfortable with. If I have to think about it, they are quite similar as people but their games are obviously opposites,” says Dane van Niekerk, South Africa's captain, about the two. “Lizelle is more aggressive and attacking, Laura is more of a stroke-player. Personality-wise, they are a quite similar off the field.”
Lee, 25, and Wolvaardt, 18, did not pair up at the top for South Africa the first time they played together, but are having a ball since becoming opening partners earlier this year.
Wolvaardt, head girl at her school and South Africa’s youngest centurion, is keen to pursue a degree in medicine, while Lee, who has hit more sixes than anyone in the world since her debut, is two semesters away from completing a degree in engineering and design. Their two century stands and one unbroken half-century partnership in three games have been a talking point at the 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup.
Here are excerpts from a conversation with the two of them.
Both of you are focussed on education. How different are your plans?
LW: I am still at high school, and she is slightly older than me. She is in the university.
Is that a dig at her?
LW: No. It was not meant like that. She is studying in the university to be a teacher, and I am still finishing my matric year, still hoping to get into med school, and then have to make a decision – cricket or medicine. She is actually the perfect example, because she is combining both – her education and her cricket.
LW: It has always been medicine. Growing up, I have always been good at school. It was always 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.
LL: Messed up in a good way.
LW: Yeah, good way. It’s a good problem to have.
Is it right to say that on the field, Lee is the aggressor?
LL: A lot of people say that. But if you have a look at (our numbers), she can score the boundaries as easily as she would like and when she wants to. It comes naturally to her as well. 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 if 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.
How did you two become opening partners?
LL: Sometimes, it is odd to say, ‘okay listen, now you are going to open together’. She is literally not even knocking the door. She is standing there and waiting for us to come in. It’s less like you are going to open together; it’s more like we deserve to be there. For this tournament, Laura and me, we are just trying to push and keep it there.
The opening department has been an area of concern for South Africa in the past…
LW: 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.
LL: When I started, I was opening. But then I went to No. 5 and now am back opening. We have so much talent in our squad.
LW: Basically, anyone can bat anywhere.
Tell us about your course in engineering, Lizelle…
LL: I have studied for four years at North-West University in Potchefstroom, and then 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 that. 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 advanced school then we are going to do it on computer.
When I was in grade nine or 10, I first started showing interest, and then when I joined university I definitely knew the subjects I wanted to take. I am really good in it. It’s not 3D stuff, but it is something I really enjoy.
Do you see the cricket ground as a canvas you can draw on?
LL: (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.
Medicine is a stable career compared to the fickleness of being a cricketer because of injuries and form even after the introduction of central contracts. Does that make medicine a preferred career option?
LW: It is definitely hard to think about what I have to think because 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 always come back to medicine, but I cannot necessarily come back to cricket. If I am going to study for seven-eight years then I am going be fat by that time and I will become big.
LL: (Laughs) I don’t think that will be case.
LW: 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 medicine 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.
What would you want to take from each other’s games and add to yours?
LW: She can hit the ball a lot further than what 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.
But your height is your advantage. It helps you to have a bigger reach while batting…
LW: Yeah, she is a bit shorter than me.
LL: 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.
Is that what you talk about in the middle?
LW: Kind of. Yeah. We would like to keep it light-hearted. We can’t be too serious.
LL: 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.
Which partnership have you enjoyed so far?
LL: I won’t single out any one, but the last three we have had together here have been among the best. Two over hundred and one 51, where we finished the game. It was the first time that we started to get some rhythm.
Lee has said in the past that she looks up to Lance Klusener. Who do you look up to, Laura?
[LL: Me? Nah! Just joking.]
LW: I think I like Virat Kohli. Insanely consistent and everything. If I could bat half as good as he does then it will be cool.
Women’s cricket is filled with versatile characters, who have a parallel life outside the game, either working or studying. How much of that has helped you in your respective games?
LL: 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. So sometimes it is good to step back a little, do something and come back to it. Maybe think about something else.
LW: 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.
But women’s cricket is heading towards a direction where it might be completely professional with a lot more at stake…
LW: I guess that probably will happen eventually. The men seem to handle it okay, so I am sure we will be fine.
LL: 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.
Are you similar in temperament as openers or poles apart?
LL: Maybe we are a little different … but maybe I would get sometimes more frustrated. She is more collected and calm.
A doctor has to be…
LL: She will be like, ‘you don’t have to go big now’. I would be, ‘oh, I should have done it’. She will be like, ‘no, don’t worry, no need for it now’. In a way, she calms me down and makes me think I don’t have to go for the big shot now. It helps me a lot.
How different are your pre-innings routines?
LW: Pretty similar. We don’t hit balls or anything.
LL: She plays a bit with a golf ball. I sometimes play with a cricket ball.
LW: She sometimes takes a mini nap.
LL: Yeah, I sometimes nap between innings.
LW: (Laughs) She likes to switch off a little.
LL: I literally sleep and dream.
LL: If I am very tired then I would dream the way you dream when you are sleeping.
Are you aware that VVS Laxman used to sleep before going to bat, and then go in for a shower at the fall of the fourth wicket?
LL: Oh, really! That’s funny. I am actually filling in some big shoes now.
LW: No pressure.
So what do you dream about?
LL: It’s like a normal dream. Sometimes I can’t even remember. If you go to bed and have a dream and wake up next morning, it’s like that with me. When I am really tired I would really like to sleep.
LW: She properly sleeps!
LL: Yeah, I properly sleep (laughs). So I tell a few people to wake me up at a certain time.
Are there certain things you avoid eating on game day?
LW: Not specifically.
LL: No, but it depends on what they are giving us. Sometimes I would not eat as much.
LW: Especially if we are batting second, then I won’t eat much.
So the hunger is used to score runs?
LW: Maybe (laughs). But I don’t want a full stomach before I go to bat.
LL: Then we will have a problem going for singles.
LW: You might end up napping for hours with a full meal.
You must be unhappy with the shortened break of 30 minutes between innings now?
LW: She naps for only 15 minutes now.
LL: I try not to nap now. I try to get my game face on!