The timeless legend that is Dane Van Niekerk

In a sport that is about fine margins and nail biting finishes, booming strike rates and unexpected outcomes, surely the age of an athlete, too matters. Matters a great deal, actually.  

The younger one is, the better the chances of shaping a career having begun anew and fresh. And likewise, the longer the career span- isn’t it? 

Moreover, with cricket’s envelope perpetually expanding having reached a bigger global foothold now than ever, it’s hardly a surprise that many happen to begin while having entered their thirties.  

Which is why what’s rather shocking is that at an age where she should ideally have been in the middle, giving it everting for her Proteas women,  occupied in flummoxing the best batters around, the tag of “former international cricketer” rests in front of a certain Dane van Niekerk.  

What’s surprising, inexplicable even akin to some of her really difficult -to-pick leg spinners is that the Protea talent is all of 31 and it has already been over a year that she called time on her career.  

However, that wasn’t before donning no fewer than 194 international caps for her South Africa, always with pride and with a sense of purpose.  

What made, still makes Dane van Niekerk an admirable talent and among the finest ever to represent women’s cricket is her passion for excellence and the desire to contribute under pressure in both departments of the game.  

To most of us besotted with her bowling talent, there are hardly many who’ve gone on to match her sheer wizardry with leg break. 

But to the lot that somehow looked at the broader picture, beyond the giant canvass of her great bowling talent, she was a batter who was as destructive on her day as she was defined by utility.     

A world class campaigner

Few have done as much for the Proteas women and with such distinct candour as Van Niekerk. 

Five years down the memory lane, when the Pretoria-born was at the peak of her powers, unbothered by captivity of frequently occurring injuries, Dane Van Niekerk  fired her career’s maiden century at an important time for her team. 

Firing the opening salvo in the first game of the three-match ODI series against the visiting Sri Lankans, Dane van Niekerk reached a fine 102. 

The essence of a truly valuable knock was firmly established by the fact that when two of her team’s finest betters- Lara Goodall and Laura Wolvaardt departed meekly inside the PowePlay, Dane van Niekerk found a way to reach a three figure mark. In so doing, she set up a majestic, if also, a tight 7-run win to hand early advantage to her side. 

But then Van Niekerk was always a campaigner that remained totally head buried into the intricacies of a contest, always ideating as to how she could do more, and go beyond. In the same game, her vital 2-for enabled South Africa to put early setbacks onto Sri Lankan scoring. 

A great leader

A genuine leader, who was easy going but also focused at the same time, legions of contemporary Proteas women’s names have found their best having been nurtured under Dane Van Niekerk’s tutelage. 

Masabata Klaas, among the finest exponents of medium pace bowling being one. Laura Wolvaardt, clearly among the world’s finest batters alongside a Smriti Mandhana and Beth Mooney being the other. 

Then there’s a certain Sune Luus who rose through the ranks and honed her natural leadership skills with the always supportive Dane around. 

Having said that, it must be given due consideration that Dane van Niekerk, akin to a Sana Mir and Mithali Raj, quite simply raised her game akin to exalted talents who peak amid massive pressure and deliver during intense moments. 

Not a bland statement; but a firm fact

Source- Female Cricket

An enormous example of Dane Van Niekerk, the first Protea women to 100 ODI wickets, simply outfoxing her opponents was seen during an interesting contest in the much followed and widely enjoyed 2017 women’s ODI World Cup. 

In what was to have been  an evenly or closely fought contest, Dane van Niekerk’s mind blowing leg break talent broke the backs of a highly skilled and dangerous looking Windies camp. 

Crushing Windies

Source- Wisden Twitter/ X handle

Conceding not a run, not one run, Van Niekerk took four wickets while bowling nearly full four overs. The West Indies were bundled out for a humiliating 48- would you believe it? 

Of 3.2 overs in her spell, 3 were maiden overs signalling absolute Caribbean despondency with the bat while upholding the quintessential Protean dominance. 

However, that wasn’t the only occasion where the Windies women were found wanting against Van Niekerk;  the West Indies had suffered Dane van Niekerk rather horribly a few years earlier in 2013. 

On way to picking a vital fifer in an important one dayer. At St. Kitts, taking a big fifer against the Caribbean side, Dane Van Niekerk emerged with a hat trick. 

A legend among the giants

Source- Twitter/ X

During the course of her whirlwind, often injury-prone career that thrilled and gripped in equal measure, Dane Van Niekerk pulled no lame punches, making the life of some of the most prominent hitters of their time rather difficult. Whether facing the brutal blade of Deandra Dottin or Hayley Matthews, or when up against the determined Bismah Maroof and Javeria Khan or even confronted by a Mithali or Harmanpreet, Dane Van Niekerk was always up to the challenge and never refused to bundle away in pressure.  

Probably it’s still the thing she’d have been contending with had her career not been marred by the excesses of injuries and resultantly, not run into a dead end with what she had to offer vis-a-vis what the Protea selectors desired. 

But having said all that, while even in their current capacity South Africa pack quite a punch with the exciting quintuplet of talents like Klaas, Luus, Steyn, Tryon and the incredible Kapp, Dane Van Niekerk’s sudden retirement, circa March 2023, has shrunken what was then a massively packed coterie of talent somewhat. In her prime, Van Niekerk competed with no fewer than three other world beating stars including, Mignon du Preez, Lizelle Lee and Shabnim Ismail. 

Today, as each of them have retired, the dazzling stars of the yesteryear’s sit quietly beyond the boundary but pepped with huge anticipation at seeing something credible and consistent from the current lot. 

And it’s likely that Dane Van Niekerk, who’s just turned 31, would be the biggest hopeful of that lot sitting in the bright optimism of what tomorrow can offer instead of bemoaning the lost chances.