Couch Talk 124 (Play)
Guest: Mignon du Preez
Host: Subash Jayaraman
SJ: Welcome to the show, Mignon!
MdP: Thank you so much for having me.
SJ: It is absolutely my pleasure having you on. I want to talk a bit about your early years in cricket, making your debut for South Africa, your captaincy, and South African cricket in general. So, let’s start with when you were a child. You were some kind of cricketing prodigy, weren’t you? You had an early start in cricket, as a 4 year old?
MdP: Yes. Actually, I started in cricket by accident. AT the age of 4, my brother was playing in a mini-cricket event and my Dad was the coach of his team. I had gone there to support my brother. One of the days, one guy in the team didn’t turn up in time and they asked me to fill up a spot. At the end of that day, I was the best ‘Batswoman of the day’ and it started my love for the game.
SJ: I was reading about you; you had scored 250 runs in a 40-overs game. That’s what legends are made of but you did that as a 12-year old!
MdP: That was a very, very special day. That’s probably one of the highlights of my career up until now. I was playing for the Gauteng ____ Girls Under-13 team. Actually, I was not supposed to play on that day. Again, somebody couldn’t make it, and they asked me the night before to help them out the next morning. I was very excited to go to this game.
It was something very special. I score 258 Not Out off 96 balls with 16 sixes and 28 fours.
SJ: You seem to make it sound like everything was just an accident, the way you started your cricket and the kind of runs you have been scoring but everything seems to point that you were destined to play cricket.
MdP: Sure, but the thing is more good things follow hard work as well. Perhaps, I was in the right place at the right time. From a very young age, I knew that I had this God-given talent and I have this saying that, “My talent is a God’s gift to me, and what I do with it is my gift back”. That’s what I have been living by and I try to do my best whenever I do something. I give my 100% and that’s probably paid off and that’s why I am where I am today. I’m fortunate that I got the opportunities from a young age and I had a wonderful support structure off the field with parents who supported me.
Obviously, a girl playing cricket isn’t common and it’s mainly a male dominated sport. It wasn’t always easy. A lot of people thought I was a Tom Boy and one day my Dad bought me a shirt that said, “I’m not a Tom boy. I’m just better than you.” That helped me to get to the place where I am. There were stages when it wasn’t easy because you play with boys and they think, “Well, you are a girl and you are just supposed to be pretty.” But then, they saw me in the field, saw how I played and the talents I had, then, they respected me. After that, it was never a problem again.
SJ: The South African society – it’s an interesting society in terms of the mixture of people, culture, history and traditions. I want to ask you about the sexism in that society, as you just mentioned about how the boys said to you, “Hey, you are a girl, you are not supposed to be here.” Now that you’ve become an accomplished batsman and also have become the captain of South Africa, do you feel that sort of thing still exists?
MdP: Deep down, I think it’s still there. That’s unfortunately how it goes. There will always be people who have strong opinions about things and think that cricket is mainly a male sport and a girl should not play it. But there are also people who support good skills and good talent once they saw what we are capable of doing and put in the hard work just like the guys. We are at that stage where we are turning people’s perceptions around and making them see that Women’s cricket is a sport in South Africa and it gets the recognition it deserves.
From where we were up until last year, we have now a few girls contracted and also reached the WT20 semifinals and all of that added, we can also get fully professional here and make sure that women’s cricket is something people here take note of.
SJ: When a boy starts to play cricket, no one even gives it a second thought, and I have heard from other women cricketers from other countries that when a 13-14 year old girl drags her kit to practice, everybody looks at her as if to say, “what are you doing here?”
MdP: Yeah, there is a perception that if you play cricket, you are butch type of girl. That’s basically one of the things I have worked hard [against]. Basically, when I am on the field, I am fearless and I play my heart out. When I am off the field, I’m a girlie girl and I like doing girlie stuff. It’s not that if you play a male dominated sport you have to built like a guy or have the same mannerisms that they do, you can still do girlie stuff and play a mainly male sport if you have the skills. I think that’s what I’ve done very well and I have managed to maintain my femininity off the cricket field but when I am on the field, be fierce and be a cricketer as well.
SJ: So, have you seen little girls in South Africa come up to you and say they want to take up cricket and be like you?
MdP: Unfortunately, women’s cricket still is not something people are aware of at the moment in South Africa. We are changing the perceptions and we have people starting to take note now. However, when we play or train at the same stadium as Under-16 or 17 girls, they come up to you and talk to you about these things but girls other than that don’t know about us much. It doesn’t happen often but there are a few times when little girls ask for some advice and say, “I want to play for the country. What do I need to do now to make sure I get that spot?” It’s not something that happens regularly but some 14-year-old girls have asked me on what they need to do in chasing their dreams.
SJ: You had mentioned that you started playing cricket with your brothers. Initially, you play amongst the boys but when you reached a certain age, you started playing with the girls. Was there any change in your game or in your approach to the game when that happened?
MdP: I made the transition from men’s cricket to playing with the girls because around the age of 13 or 14 going to high school, my parents felt that the guys are starting to grow a little bit faster, getting a bit more muscular and tend to bowl faster. They didn’t want me to get injured, so at that stage we made the call that I’d play with the girls at the moment.
Yeah, it’s still the same, it didn’t change much for me, and cricket is still cricket for me. Obviously, playing with the girls, they are not as strong as the boys, so you are not able to hit the ball as hard or as far. But, at a later stage in my career, like last year – I had worked on my skills to get where I am now – I was able to start playing against the boys again. Just to challenge myself. I do think playing against the guys, because they do play at a competitive level and they do hit the ball hard, bowl faster, if you can handle that, obviously women’s cricket becomes a little bit easier for you. So, to challenge ourselves, we like playing against the guys and how we can fit our abilities and keep getting better and better day-by-day.
SJ: You are only 24 years old and we have heard of you for so long already. You made your national debut as a 17-year old. What was that occasion like and how was the reception in to the national squad?
MdP: It was obviously very special. Initially, I didn’t make the team. I was very sad because I thought I’d done my very best and I’d made sure I was fitter at the camp and did everything according to plan. At the end of the day, they decided that I wasn’t part of the squad and they had someone else to play that specific role in the squad. Unfortunately, one of the girls got injured during the holidays and I got the call up. They said, “Pakistan would be in South Africa in January , would you be interested in being part of the squad?” I still remember, I was standing outside my school with my coach and it was very, very special and I couldn’t believe that, something that you worked all your life towards, is actually happening. I was very fortunate that, in the third or fourth game with the team, I made my first fifty for South Africa, and that was special. In the same year, I went with the team to The Netherlands, and was really fortunate to be part of a world record partnership for the 4th wicket with Johmari Logtenberg. At that time, I was not always part of the playing XI. We played a Test then, the only Test South Africa has played in since I began playing for South Africa and I was the 12th that day! You had to work really hard since I wasn’t always in the playing XI and I didn’t like sitting on the sidelines and I wanted to be part of the team and compete, and so I made sure that was the last time I was left out of the XI and I did everything I had to do. After that, my performance spoke for itself and they couldn’t leave me out.
SJ: Your name has been in the papers for a while, so when you come in to the squad, there must have been seniors in the squad and also, you became the captain in 2012. So, how was the interactions with the existing members of the squad and now, you had to lead them as well?
MdP: We are very fortunate that we all are like a family. Even though I wasn’t in the national team, I had played with a lot of the girls who were in the team, at the age of thirteen. All of them were quite familiar to me. Obviously, you are the youngster coming in to the team and you know where you place is but they try to make you feel at home and try to make it easy for you especially when you are away from home when you are young and take care of your worries and also to have fun.
They make you part of the squad because they see that your skills speak for itself and you get the respect from them. When you perform on the field, off the field becomes easy for you and they can’t really be naughty to you if you are the one pulling the team through.
I became the captain towards the end of 2012 in the series against England because the captain had got injured and I had to step in. The coaches decided that that was the route they were going to go in, and I was to be the captain. Obviously, it was scary initially as I had not been the captain before. It was a very big honor but at the same time, it was a bit scary.
I think what helped me at that time was that in the team, there were still 2-3 girls who had captained the team before and they were all supportive and chipped in and helped me through the first stages till I got used to the position. The more you play, the more I started understanding the game and the position. It’s an ever learning process and I’m getting better and better with it as the years go by and more experienced I get, and I continue to work hard at it. I hope it can continue for a few more years and I can become the most capped captain!
How would you compare South Africa’s performance in the 2012 WT20 and the 2014 WT20? Obviously, you reached the semifinal in 2014, so based on results, it is a better one but how would you assess the performances of the players and what had changed between 2012 and 2014?
MdP: Before 2012, in 2009 and 2010 WT20s we hadn’t won a single game at those tournaments. So 2012 was already something special for us since we won a game in the group stages. We really celebrated it since it was the first one ever!
When we got back to South Africa, we decided in 2012 that we would have a plan of action to go forward. It’s no use that we go there every other year and we just compete and we aren’t really competing for the one of the top spots. So, we decided to make a few changes and Cricket South Africa decided to buy in to it. We got a sponsor on board, Momentum were the first official sponsor for women’s cricket in South Africa and then, we were fortunate enough that we managed to get a contract for few of the girls. Six girls got the contract and started to play cricket full time. I think all of that added to [what we accomplished in 2014 WT20].
We also added a lot more cricket to the calendar. We played at the end of last year against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in home series, and the beginning of this year, we went to Doha to play in a triangular series, in sub-continental conditions against Pakistan and Ireland. The players that played in those were part of our squad for the WT20. We started as a young team but the same squad, we’ve been playing together and there was a bit of consistency. The coach has been with the squad for a full year now. I think all that stability and consistency is what really helped [us reach the semifinals].
We had to make sure we were getting better and we can compete with the best. All we had to do was put our money where our mouth was. That’s exactly what we did in the game against New Zealand. We were a team that had never beaten a team from the Top 4 and by beating New Zealand, we kind of broke that barrier and I guess we are also part of that Top 4. We showed the world that we can compete with the best. We’ve just had a taste of the cake and hopefully, two years from now, we can go back and put the cherry on top and make sure we bring the cup home.
I want to talk about the impact of sponsorship, the contract and the visibility of women’s cricket in South Africa and around the world. First, I want to finish talking about the SA team performances.
In the semi-final game against England, it ended up unfortunately for you as a very one sided game with England winning by 9 wickets. However, you had the ring side view to two of the premier women cricketers of the game – Charlotte Edwards and Sarah Taylor. So, what were the things that you were observing them do and perhaps learn from them in terms of how they approached the game, their batting etc.?
MdP– The thing was, England are fully professional. Just before the World Cup they announced that they are turning fully professional. We are probably where they were 2-3 years ago. We are still moving towards professionalism. We are not there yet, but we are working towards it. i think you can see that they are a team that has played together for some time. They had only one or two changes from the squad from 2-3 years ago. They have played together, they know each other really well. They have good game plans, they have senior players who perform consistently. That has been something that we are still lacking. We have had players chipping in, but there is not a lot of consistency. One game it is me, another game it might be [Marizanne] Kapp, another game it might be Dane [van Niekerk]. We need players like myself to become the player that consistently scores for the team, like Jacques Kallis for the South African (men’s) team and AB(de Villiers) who always scores. We need to have that person to stay in the middle so the team can sit back and relax because they know you are going to do the job. That’s what [England] have done very well.
And, Anya Shrubsole, she had bowled phenomenally throughout the World Cup. I don’t think there are a lot of girls who can swing the ball the way she does. They utlized her extremely well. They come out with a game plan. If she can do the damage early on and put the opposition on the back foot, then it is convenient for the other bowlers – they just put the ball in the right areas and there wasn’t a lot of pressure on them. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened with us. They picked two of our wickets up front and we were already on the back foot and it was really hard to recover from there, especially against a team with such big game plans and structures.
I do think it was an amazing learning experience for us. It is the first time ever that we played on television. It was a big moment for the girls, to just be there at such a world event and to play in the semi final was in itself one of our main goals. We have achieved that. We are proud of that, I think if we can just go back and work on the areas that we have seen, like performing under pressure situations and if we can have game plans, the rest of the bowlers think that they can bowl wicket to wicket and share the burden. It is hard to put bad balls away if you are already on the back foot and trying to just make sure you are not losing another wicket. That is something that we would like to work on.
England’s batting – that is something which is very interesting. They got to the finals but they are not any big hitters of the ball. They have hit about just one six or one four and it just shows how important are the 1s and 2s in T20 cricket as well. In IPL we see Chris Gayle who hits every single ball out of the ground for 6. But realistically, that is not possible. I don’t think the girls have the same strength. If we have to play England again, if we can get anything above 120, it would be a very competitive score against them, if we can bowl well with the ball. Even in the game we lost we scored only 100, but they only got it in the 17th over. If there were an extra 10-15 runs on the board, they might have been under a bit of a pressure. Anything can happen in a pressure situation. That is T20 cricket. It takes one ball of the game, and the momentum of the game can shift.
It is about learning from experiences and when we play them again, it is about knowing our own game better. I don’t think we need to change too much. I just think what we have done has gotten us that far. We shouldn’t focus too much on the opposition, we have to execute our game plans better. Like I said, a few unfortunate run outs things that we can control in the future. The biggest challenge in the future will be to work on game plan against Anya Shrubsole and try and save wickets up front and then work out the power play once she has bowled out, and you can accumulate as many runs as you can later. We will be happy to keep her out and score from the other end.
SJ– As you mentioned, the World T20 semi-final against England, that was the first time the South African women’s team featured in a match that was televised. South Africa is a sports mad country, there is a lot of sports in your culture. You have the Springboks, you have the Proteas. Sports is encouraged actively. However, it was surprising for me to hear from you, and I had read about that – that it was the first match SA women had played on TV. Why isn’t there much of an enthusiasm? I would think eventually, from the men’s sports, you would have got to the women’s team sports a lot earlier than this.
MdP– That is a sad point. Unfortunately, in South Africa, a lot of women’s sports are almost seen as “Cinderalla” sports. Unfortunately, women’s cricket falls under that category. At the moment. Unfortunately we haven’t got many schools playing girls cricket yet, and our pool of women’s cricketers is very small. [Broadcasters] just think sponsors might not be interested, and due to lack of funding – it is quite expensive to air a game on television. I think that might be the biggest problem – lack of funds. Hopefully we do well and win consistently, and atleast the semi-final of the World Cup got televised and hopefully that got the people a little bit interested. We have now created an awareness and hopefully [the broadcast situation] change in the near future. It is an obstacle that we have been facing and unfortunately it is not the only sport. Other team sports – hockey – they also struggled for recognition till a sponsor got involved. They have got a little bit more television time. The netball girls are also starting to get theirs.
A lot of women’s sports are frustrated that we are not getting the recognition that we deserve. Hopefully in the near future there might be talks of playing curtain raisers. If it is NZ vs SA, maybe the ladies teams can come and play curtain raisers and we can play along with the guys’ games. That can get the fans that currently supporting the men’s cricket more interested in women’s cricket. As soon as they see the talent that is on display, they will be very keen to watch women’s cricket. It is just that people are not educated enough, they don’t know that there is something like women’s cricket. That is the biggest obstacle. We are trying to change people’s perception, and show that women can play cricket and it is actually very fun to also come out and watch. The bigger things was finances, but hopefully in the near future we can get around it and we can get some television time for the ladies as well.
SJ– In the World T20 in Bangaldesh, for the men’s tourney, even the practice games were broadcast on television. Whereas, for all the game that happened in Sylhet, the ICC produced only a 3 minute highlights, that were available on their website.
MdP– Yes. That is actually sad.
SJ– It doesn’t take much to stream a game with two still cameras, which they do in a lot of domestic matches in Australia.
MdP– Yes. It is very, very sad, that. We also understand that, and it is something that we have been fighting for. But, like I said, the more games you win, the more people’s thoughts you get, get a little bit of knowledge about women’s cricket – maybe that can get people interested and get people to ask the question, “Listen, can SuperSport please show a little bit more of women’s cricket? We want to see it.”
SJ– My question is not just about your domestic broadcaster in South Africa, I am talking about the ICC.
MdP– That too. We just need the people to change their perception and also take women’s cricket seriously. At least, we are getting the opportunity to play curtain raisers at big T20 World Cup events. It would be nice if we can get all the girls’ events televised, and also even play more games in South Africa and so people can come and watch both [men’s and women’s] games but yeah, there are obstacles that we are facing in women’s cricket. But hopefully in the future it will change.
There is a lot of talk about the WICL – Women’s International Cricket League, which should be similar to the IPL format. If that gets off the ground, that would be something special. That is what we might need to get people across the globe aware of the women’s game and the talent that is available. It is about the competition of about five teams with the best women cricketers from the world. Not like Kolkata against Mumbai, but like teams playing against each other with a lot of international players. That would be something special, to see the best of the best competing against each other. That is something that we need – to get women’s cricket on the map and get people excited about the game.
SJ– In a recent interview on cricinfo, Suzie Bates mentioned that, the WIICL. We have heard about the WICL for a little over a year now. Do you have any idea about when that is supposed to get off the ground?
MdP– Initially, the plan was to get it done in September this year. but unfortunately, it had a lot of behind the scenes things that have to happen first. They have been working on it for 18 months on the WICL. Either this year or not later than next year. unfortunately, there are a lot of people that have to first give the go-ahead before a tournament like that can take place. They are just working towards getting all the boards and the ICC happy and approve a tournament like that. Once that gets off, I think it might just be what we need to get ourselves on the map.
One last question, Mignon. This is about SA women’s cricket’s future. It looks like you will be figuring in it prominently, considering you are so young and you already have all this experience as captain. How do you see SA women’s cricket progressing and catching up to England and Australia, because they are not going to be standing still either, they would be moving forward? How do you expect to make up the gap and get ahead of them?
MdP– That is a very good question. Currently for us now, we have 2 tours this year – to England in August and play against Sri Lanka in October. The first thing for us is to do well and win some games and England and in the tournament against Sri Lanka, and make winning a habit. That might get sponsors interested. Once you get the sponsors interested, we can get the whole squad contracted. At the moment only 6 players are contracted. Hopefully, by this year or the next year we can get the full squad contracted.
One very exciting thing that has happened for us now is that Cricket South Africa invited 10 girls to participate in the National Women’s Academy consistent with the Men’s Academy. Some of the guys played at franchise level or at the u-19 level in the recent World Cup that they won, some of those guys. It is a three months’ program where you will do other parts of cricket too. Not just the cricket skills but the other sides too – nutrition, off the field stuffs as well.. All these will help getting the right resources for us. With the coaches, the coaching staff getting involved and all working together, we can definitely become one of the best teams in the world. Then we have to continue to work hard and we have seen what England and Australia are doing as professionals and just work on those things so that we can also become professionals like they are in a year or two.
I wish you and your team all the very best, Mignon! Thanks for spending this morning with me.
MdP– Thank you very much, thanks you for your time.
SJ– Absolutely my pleasure! Cheers.
Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman