The Sunette Viljoen-Louw story - a life of dreams, fairy tales and comebacks
Sunette Viljoen-Louw © Getty Images
January 22, 2022 was going to be a usual day in women’s cricket in South Africa. Six domestic matches of the Cricket South Africa Provincial one-day competition were going to be held across the country. One of those matches was going to witness the comeback of someone who was once a prodigal child of the South African sport.
As Titans faced Eastern Storms at the Willowmoore Park in Benoni, it marked the debut of Sunette Viljoen-Louw, or as some would call the fairy tale comeback. Unlike most of the players, Viljoen-Louw is not an unknown face. She has made a name for herself in another sport and has had an idncredible journey.
By the time the Titans' inning ended, there were more than one reason to celebrate. She smashed an unbeaten 160 from just 123 balls, helping her team get to the total of 321 for six. A debut to remember. Once that total was posted, it was always going to be easy to defend. Storms managed only 115 before getting bowled out.
To document Viljoen-Louw’s journey from the start and her decision to return to the sport she calls her first love, Women’s CricZone decided to catch up with her when it was announced she was going to be part of the Titans team. If you have read this far, you either know a bit about Viljoen-Louw or you are wondering why we used the word ‘comeback’ instead of debut for her.
The story begins way back in the 1990s when Viljoen-Louw was growing up. At an early age she fell in love with cricket and started playing it quite a lot with her brother and her friends. Just after turning 17, she made her debut for South Africa in the year 2000. At the time she was the youngest ever to play for the national team, a record which has been broken since.
Her contributions and performances ensured that she played for the national team at the 2000 World Cup in New Zealand. In March 2002, she made her Test debut against India at home - her last international appearance till date. A career of one Test 17 ODIs, that's where her cricketing journey was supposed to end.
The same year, she decided to move on from cricket and start a career in javelin throwing. Viljoen-Louw was young and needed a scholarship to study in a good university. Back in the early 2000s, the women’s game wasn’t as professional as it is now and there was no certainty about its future. But her university was willing to give her a scholarship if she would throw javelin. It was a tough decision but one which was required to be made at the time.
“It was very hard for me to walk away from the game, but I had no choice. Had cricket been as professional as it is today, it would have been a difficult decision, but that wasn’t the case,” Viljoen-Louw told this portal.
But her Javelin throwing career flourished and was full of accolades. She won gold medals at the Commonwealth Games in 2006 and 2010, followed by a silver medal at the 2014 edition and another bronze medal in the 2018 edition. In between all of that, came the big prize when she won the silver medal at the 2016 Olympic Games.
However, as they say all good things come to a halt and for Viljoen-Louw, javelin throwing reached that place, after she failed to travel to Tokyo for the 2020 (2021) Olympics. Issues with the shoulder stopped her from being a five-time Olympian, something for which she had worked extremely hard. But the need to challenge herself didn’t really go away. At the age of 38, Viljoen-Louw decided that she wanted to make a switch back to cricket.
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Scoring runs for fun on debut isn’t a new thing for her. When she decided to play club cricket in Pretoria in the year 2021, she scored 141 runs on her debut in a 35-over game. She followed that up with another hundred in the next game. “I was watching the ball like a pumpkin,” Viljoen-Louw said while having a laugh.
“I think I am getting all these runs because I am just having a lot of fun coming back to cricket. I really like batting, wherever I can get an opportunity to bat, I will bat. I can bowl as well. I have opened the bowling as well for my club. But, my coach at my club said I will bat at no. 3 after seeing me bat, so I am really enjoying that. I just love to bat, you know,” Viljoen-Louw added.
Returning to a sport which you haven’t played professionally for almost two decades is not an easy task. Despite all that could be said, Viljoen-Louw is determined to play for South Africa again. She talked about her future ambitions and added, “my goal right now is to do well for my provincial side. My ultimate goal is to play for South Africa again. It is a wonderful dream and I am giving everything for that dream to be true. There are the Commonwealth Games in England and also the T20 World Cup in South Africa in 2023, so there are opportunities and I hope I can represent my country once again.”
For now, Viljoen-Louw has started her season on a wonderful note and one can only hope her legacy has yet another chapter added to it. On being asked what she would like to be remembered as, she said, “Just someone who used all her god gifted talent and gave everything when she went onto the field.”