By Nick Said
The South African women’s cricket team makes a comeback at the 2022 Commonwealth Games for the first time since 1998, and have high hopes of winning gold. We speak to one of the world’s leading batters Laura Wolvaardt. Who else is making it?
THE 2022 COMMONWEALTH GAMES TO BE staged in Birmingham, England from July 28 to August 8 was a missed opportunity for Africa away from the field of competition, but provides the continent’s athletes with the chance to win a prestigious gold medal and enhance their reputations on the global stage.
Durban in South Africa’s sunny KwaZulu-Natal province was initially chosen as the host of the Games in 2015 and set to be the first city in Africa to stage the event.
But when the South African government reportedly failed to provide the financial guarantees required by the organizers, they were stripped of the rights two years later.
And so athletes and fans from over 60 Commonwealth Games Associations will instead head for the English Midlands, including representation for 13 African countries.
All will be dreaming of gold, not least the South African women’s cricket team as the sport makes a comeback at the Games for the first time since 1998.
On that occasion it was the South African men who took the title in a 50-over competition. This time it is only the women who will compete in the shorter 20-over format.
Fresh from a semifinal place at the recent Women’s Cricket World Cup in New Zealand, South Africa have high hopes of winning gold again, according to one of the world’s leading batters Laura Wolvaardt.
“We had a couple of really tight games in New Zealand but played some good cricket and were obviously very disappointed to lose to England in the semifinals,” Wolvaardt tells FORBES AFRICA.
“The way we played in that game wasn’t a reflection of how well we did throughout the tournament. But in the long run, we’ll learn a lot from the experience.”
Wolvaardt, a stylish top-order batter with one of the best cover drives in the sport – men or women – believes South Africa are well- equipped to compete in the shorter 20-over format.
“Even though it’s a different format, I think most of our squad will stay pretty much the same. If you’re hitting the ball well it [form] will stay with you for the Commonwealth Games,” she says.
“I think we’re clicking well as a team. We have two series before the Games in Ireland and England, so hopefully we can use that time to have a good chat and be 100% ready for the competition.”
Conditions in England are likely to be similar to New Zealand, and that should suit South Africa, according to Wolvaardt.
“New Zealand has apparently the most similar conditions to England, outside of England. That’s a good thing for us and with the series in Ireland and England to come, we won’t have any excuses by the time we go to the Commonwealth Games. We’ll definitely be prepared.”
The Games field reads like a mini-World Cup, with most of the other leading women’s cricket nations present – hosts England, Australia, India, Pakistan and New Zealand.
“Australia are head and shoulders above the competition at the moment. We just need to find a way to bridge the gap between us as soon as we can,” Wolvaardt says.
“But T20 cricket is interesting because anyone can win on a given day with one outstanding individual performance. We have a really good group of senior players who’ve played for quite a long time. So a lot of our players are reaching their prime. That’s very exciting.
“I think for us it’s more the mental side of the game we need to work on.”
AFRICA AT THE COMMONWEALTH GAMES: ALL EYES ARE ON…
South Africa will also send teams in men’s and women’s hockey, netball, sevens rugby (men and women), as well as participants in the athletics events and swimming, among other disciplines.
Nigeria will be well represented too, especially in the weightlifting competition, including medal prospects Stella Kingsley, Adijat Olarinoye, Rafiatu Folashade Lawal and Joy Ogbonne Eze.
Ghana have qualified for a number of team sports, including hockey (men and women), beach volleyball (women), and they will also be represented in the badminton event.
Kenya will, of course, expect medals in the middle and long distance running events and have chosen three men and three women to compete in the marathon – Philemon Kacheran, Eric Kiptanui, Jonathan Korir, Stella Barsosio, Purity Changwony and Margaret Wangari.
With Ethiopia not at the Games, the Kenyans will feel they have a real chance of making a big impact.
Zambia are surprise qualifiers for the men’s rugby sevens event. They will join South Africa, Kenya and Uganda in the 16-team field, which also includes powerhouses Fiji and New Zealand.
Kgotla Kgaswane will represent Botswana in the men’s 55-kilograme weightlifting event, while teenage sprint sensation Letsile Tebogo is also hoping to be at the Games, fresh from his 100-meter gold medal at the World Junior Championships last year.
The men’s team from The Gambia will compete in the beach volleyball event, while experienced para powerlifter Modou Gamo will also be in Birmingham.
Para powerlifting is one of three sports at the Games for disabled athletes, with wheelchair basketball and table tennis the others.
Malawi will see themselves as outsiders for a medal in netball, though it is a heavyweight field of all the world’s leading teams, while Mauritius have three entrants in the weightlifting competition – Cédric Coret (Men’s 96kg), Roilya Ranaivosoa (Women’s 49kg) and Ketty Lent (Women’s 71kg).
Rwanda will compete in athletics and beach volleyball, and Seychelles will also have two women competing in the weightlifting – Clementina Agricole (59kg) and Romentha Larue (87kg).
Commonwealth Games’ organizers have also announced that e-sports will be included at Birmingham 2022 as a pilot event. Players will compete in Dota 2, eFootball and Rocket League events.