How Laura Wolvaardt learned to stop worrying and start loving T20s

Laura Wolvaardt batting for Velocity © BCCI/IPL

What do you think of when you think of Laura Wolvaardt? The South Africa batter is one of the most aesthetically pleasing batters going around. Although there are exceptions to this norm, batters like these aren’t players people immediately associate with T20 cricket.

Women’s T20 Challenge has been a ‘blink and you will miss it’ sort of tournament over the years, but it still managed to pull off some incredible games in its brief history of 13 matches. The final of the 2022 edition played on Saturday (May 28) at the Maharashtra Cricket Stadium in Pune was no different. Velocity were in pursuit of 166 for their first title against the favourites Supernovas. When Wolvaardt walked in, the task had already gotten harder, with Velocity losing all their power play enforcers inside the first six overs, with only 38 runs on the board.

Even as she got her eye in, Wolvaardt lost two more batting partners and Velocity needed 102 runs from the last nine overs with only five wickets in hand. She was going at a run-a-ball 19 at the end of the 11th over. Wolvaardt opens the batting for South Africa in ODIs but has transformed herself into a middle-order batter in the shortest format over the years.

ALSO READ: Jemimah Rodrigues could infuse new energy into India’s struggling middle order

“Plan was for me to come after the power play was over. We had three batters – Kiran (Navgire), Yastika (Bhatia), and Shafali (Verma) – to maximise the power play as much as they could. Then I would come in the middle phase and rotate it a bit. That was always the plan. We didn’t veer off the batting lineup too much,” Wolvaardt said during the media interaction after the final.

******

Wolvaardt made her ODI debut as a 16-year-old and had an immediate impact as an opener for South Africa. She finished the World Cup 2017 as their highest run-getter with 324 runs from seven matches. As it came naturally to her, Wolvaardt opened the batting in T20Is as well with varying degrees of success, even as the format evolved. She had scored 333 runs at an average of 17.52 and a strike rate of 95.14 before the T20 World Cup in 2020 from 21 innings. 17 of them came as opener.

How did the one-time anchor in both formats metamorphose into a designated middle-order bat/ finisher?

Wolvaardt knew there was a problem with the way she batted in T20s and had her struggles adapting to her role as a T20I opener in international cricket.

“I started my T20 career opening the batting as well but didn’t work out well for me. I struggled a little bit in the power play to get going,” Wolvaardt told Women’s CricZone in 2021.

ALSO READ: Laura is not a legend in the making anymore, she is already a legend: Dane van Niekerk

During the Women’s Big Bash League 2017-18 season (WBBL03), Wolvaardt came to Brisbane Heat as an injury replacement for Grace Harris and it didn’t work out well for the right-hander. She finished that edition with 32 runs at a meagre average (6.4) and strike rate (59.26), as Heat failed to make the knockout stages.

Laura Wolvaardt struggled during the early years of WBBL © Getty Images

Wolvaardt returned for the next season (WBBL04) and batted as low as eight and nine, where she was forced to attack from the outset – which wasn’t her game as she did not have the big shots in her arsenal. While her strike rate improved as a byproduct of her batting positions, her numbers didn’t make for great reading, with 67 runs from 14 matches (nine innings) at a strike rate of 126.40 and the average of a lower order batter (9.57).

Heat had an unprecedented run in the tournament and went on to win it. But Wolvaardt as a T20 batter was at the crossroads.

*******

Heat went on to do the double with another championship triumph in the fifth edition of the WBBL, but Wolvaardt wasn’t part of it. Then came the T20 World Cup 2020 in Australia. By then, selectors had seen enough of her as an opener and it was decided that she would bat in the middle order.

“Right before the World Cup (T20 World Cup 2020), the selectors moved me to the middle order and so far going well. I enjoy coming in when the field is spread and getting myself in. That’s kind of been a key change for me to adapt to T20 cricket,” Wolvaardt told this portal during that 2021 conversation as she talked about her T20 evolution.

A mere switch to the middle order wouldn’t mean much if the batter doesn’t work on it. You needed all the gears if you were to control the middle phase for your team. Wolvaardt had to work hard for it and she was more than willing to put herself in uncomfortable positions to get better.

“Just taking a little bit of time to rotate and then being at the end to give it a good whack is quite fun,” Wolvaardt added in the same conversation. “It did take me a couple of seasons to figure out, because in ODI cricket, I relied on my technique and my cover drives, that sort of thing. In T20Is, just because it looks pretty, doesn’t mean it’s effective. I had to find ways – but it’s still me – to score a lot more runs a bit more quickly.”

“But it’s still me.” For Wolvaardt, that was an important aspect of her game. She was never going to bat like Chloe Tryon, Harmanpreet Kaur, or Ashleigh Gardner. But it still needed just as much hard work.

******

During the T20 World Cup in Australia in 2020, in their opening game, South Africa kept pushing Wolvaardt down the order and she wasn’t eventually required to bat as they pulled off an impressive six-wicket win against England. She didn’t bat against Thailand either.

The long-awaited acid test eventually came for the elegant batter from Cape Town in their next fixture against Pakistan. South Africa were reeling at 54 for 3 in ten overs when Wolvaardt walked in and soon it went from bad to worse as they lost the ever-reliable Marizanne Kapp as well to find themselves at 64 for 4 in 12.2 overs.

ALSO READ: What is Laura Wolvaardt?

Wolvaardt was her usual self at the start and was on 15 off 19 at one time, but with no pressure of the power play or a crowded inner ring, she rotated as she wanted. But it was as risky as playing dots in the power play, for she needed the power and finesse to explode at the backend.

And explode, she did.

Wolvaardt hit five fours in the last six balls she faced to finish on 53 not out off 36 balls. And it came with her trademark drives through cover and long-off. But this time some of them were lofted shots over the inner fielders.

Laura Wolvaardt

Laura Wolvaardt during T20 World Cup 2020 © Getty Images

“It took me a bit to figure it out, but slowly getting there. [I] went through the gym a little bit more, (it was about) just getting in good positions, strong power positions and that kind of thing. Definitely been working on it a lot, I swung so hard in the nets so many times. I am glad that it’s finally showing in the games that I can hit a few sixes, which is nice,” Wolvaardt continued as she dissected her game step-by-step.

When Wolvaardt repeated the act in the semi-final of the global event against the eventual champions Australia – almost pulling off an improbable win – there was no surprise, for she had already shown the world what she could do.

******

“Slowly getting there.”

Post the T20 World Cup 2020, Wolvaardt was back again in Australia for WBBL season six. This time she was playing for Adelaide Strikers – she mostly batted at number three as she had a designated top order role. But she no longer feared the power play, for her game was evolving and Wolvaardt knew she could be consistent.

Laura Wolvaardt during WBBL07 © Getty Images

Wolvaardt ended WBBL06 with the most runs for Strikers, as she amassed 347 runs at an average of 26.69 and a strike rate of 104.80. She also hit the most sixes for Strikers in the tournament, with eight maximums to her name.

Wolvaardt kept ticking new boxes: adaptability and consistency. She could now score fast or she could bat through different phases without getting stuck. Now it was time to combine all these things and forge a new path.

WBBL
Editions

Matches

Runs

Average

Strike Rate
WBBL03 6 32 6.40 59.26
WBBL04 14 67 9.57 126.42
WBBL06 14 347 26.69 104.83
 WBBL07 17 381 29.31 121.34

 

******

Going back to the Women’s T20 Challenge final, Velocity were still in pursuit of that tough ask. Wolvaardt’s game had evolved by now and there was no panic. She was playing the ‘lone wolf’, until Simran Dil Bahadur came to the crease.

“About at ten overs, I didn’t think we would get close to the target at all. We needed like 90 off 40 balls (89 off 40) or something at one stage. When Simran (Dil Bahadur) came out, I didn’t expect her to play like that at all. I have never batted with her before. She was just incredible; it was good to see her play that way. We were just trying to get as close as we can,” Wolvaardt added during the post-final interaction.

Aided by Dil Bahadur’s ten-ball cameo where she scored an unbeaten 20, Wolvaardt took Velocity close – one shot away from an improbable win – even as they eventually went down by four runs.

During the process, she first peppered the off-side with a few shots through the field and over the fence. But to become a rounded player, one had to develop shots all across the ground. And it’s unlike Wolvaardt to leave things to chance. She knew that oppositions all over the world were going to come up with plans to shut her strong areas. As much as the world loved her cover drives, opponents wouldn’t let her have it all her way.

Wolvaardt launched Australia’s leggie Alana King over long-on for a six. When push came to the shove against the number one bowler in the world – Sophie Ecclestone – with 17 needed off the last over, Wolvaardt hoicked the left-arm spinner over cow corner for another maximum. Ecclestone, with all her experience, darted in a few yorkers from there onwards and Dil Bahadur failed to connect well with a full toss on the final delivery, allowing Supernovas to sneak another win.

“The leg side game is something I have been working on quite a lot. Especially now in T20 cricket, when the teams put out long-off and deep extra-cover as well. It kind of takes away my extra-cover power game. So I have to think of different options,” Wolvaardt continued.

Laura Wolvaardt in T20 leagues © Women’s CricZone

“I am glad that I got one or two over long-on and cow today (May 28). And the last over Sophie (Ecclestone) bowled really well. Those yorkers are really hard to get away; I got the first one away and then she nailed the yorkers afterwards under quite a lot of pressure. She bowled really well, and there is a reason why she is the number one in both formats at the moment.”

*******

By the seventh edition of the WBBL (WBBL07), Wolvaardt had cracked the T20 code. Now she didn’t have to compromise on any aspect of her game. She could score fast and at the same time be consistent. She could be the designated finisher for South Africa and also do different roles for Strikers in WBBL, and Northern Superchargers in The Hundred.

Laura Wolvaardt

Laura Wolvaardt had a successful The Hundred 2021 © Getty Images

Wolvaardt ended WBBL07 with 381 runs at an average of 29.30 and she struck at 121.33 runs per 100 balls. Also by then, she had taken her international game to unprecedented levels. She could start hitting right away if the situation demanded it.

In her last five knocks in T20Is, Wolvaardt had three unbeaten scores, where she made 53 off 39, 35 off 21, and 33 off just nine. That 33 was significant – there were four sixes in that knock – as she walked in to bat in the 18th over and showed the world that Laura ‘Wolfie’ Wolvaardt could do everything under the sun in T20s.