Rejuvenated Dane van Niekerk excited to lead South Africa after seventeen months
Dane van Niekerk during T20 World Cup 2020. © Getty Images
The last time Dane van Niekerk led or played for South Africa was in the heartbreaking semi-final defeat against Australia in the T20 World Cup in March 2020. Since then, she had missed the home series against Pakistan in January 2021 and the tour of India later in March. The skipper seemed thrilled to be back in the team for the upcoming series against the West Indies that is scheduled to begin on August 31.
Speaking ahead of the tour, van Niekerk said that she is excited to be leading the team again after a year. "The last time I played was at the world cup. It has been very long. It is just good to be back with the team. I am coming off The Hundred, but playing for your country is, obviously, the pinnacle. So, glad to be back," she said.
The 28-year-old had to miss the series against Pakistan and India earlier this year due to injury. The allrounder said that she went through an extensive rehab program, both physically and mentally.
“I had a lot of time to think about where I want to go and what I want to achieve as a leader, and obviously, that is winning a World Cup. Met with the team before leaving for The Hundred. Just seeing the growth of them(the team) and massive strides, the players, not only on the skills but individually and maturity-wise, makes me excited and my life (as a captain) lot easier."
Van Niekerk had joined the team from England, where she led the victorious campaign of Oval Invincibles in the inaugural season of The Hundred. She was the player of the series, scoring 258 runs and taking eight wickets. However, the allrounder wanted to leave The Hundred behind and focus on the series against West Indies.
"Personally, I would like to take some momentum and confidence out of it, but I definitely don’t want the team to feel like they need to take something out of it. Hopefully, just on a personal level, they (the South African team) can see I can still compete and showcase my skill. For me, it was a massive confidence booster to show myself that I can still compete at a certain level. I want to bring that confidence into the set-up and contribute to a successful tour.”
Meanwhile, she was high on praise for Sune Luus, who led the team in her absence against Pakistan and India. Van Niekerk felt that she need to evolve as a leader to fit into the style Luus had developed with the team in the last year, winning in both the ODI and T20I formats comprehensively.
“I need to find my feet. I do not want to come back in and bash everyone with what I believe or think. They have created a very good atmosphere and environment. I want to join in because it has been a very successful one.”
South Africa previous tour of the West Indies was a closely contested one, as the tourists drew both the ODI and T20I series. However, van Niekerk believes that team has come a long way since and have performed well on slower pitches in recent times.
"Hopefully, this time around, we will have better results. It has been a bit of a layoff when it comes to playing international cricket. We are finding our feet with the next couple of training sessions and see how the conditions play out."
With the ODI World Cup to be played in New Zealand early next year, the South African skipper said that the focus would be on the 50-over format, adding, "We need to start really well and grab the momentum in the T20s, and hopefully, that flows over into the ODIs.”
South Africa will take on West Indies in the first T20I at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua on Tuesday (August 31).