Dane Van Niekerk Can Have Our Empathy, but Can She Have a T20 World Cup Spot?

Women's T20 World Cup 2023: Dane van Niekerk could not meet South Africa's strict mandatory fitness requirements.

6 min read
Hindi Female

Martin Guptill was run-out by just a few inches in a tied match that saw a tied Super Over in the 2019 ODI World Cup final. Despite doing most things right, New Zealand returned home devastated, without a trophy to show for, and for four years, England got to brag about winning their maiden ODI World Cup.

There was a lot of empathy and sympathy dished out at the Kiwis, except that empathy and sympathy do not result in a trophy.

Likewise, with Dane van Niekerk having been left out of the South Africa squad for the upcoming women's T20 World Cup, all one can offer is empathy, but probably not a place in the squad.


For the uninitiated, South Africa recently announced their squad for the T20 World Cup and left out their regular captain and one of their most iconic players, Dane van Niekerk, after she failed to run 2 kms within the allotted time of 9 minutes and 30 seconds, despite meeting all other fitness criteria and achieving her personal best.

The all-rounder has lost 10 kg since last year's Hundred and is in the best shape that she has been for a long time, but missed the acceptable timing by 18 seconds.

Niekerk has been out of competitive cricket for a long time due to a broken ankle. Despite making a full recovery, she wasn't included in the squad for the ongoing tri-series as she failed to meet the fitness requirements, but was expected to be alright by the time the World Cup squad was announced as per coach Hilton Moreeng.

To be fair to the South African management, van Niekerk was tested on the treadmill as an alternate method but she fell short of that marker as well.


What Changed in CSA Over the Last 2 Years?

Solely for context, Cricket South Africa (CSA) have started applying such mandatory fitness standards quite religiously over the last two years. While the male cricketers are required to run 2 kms in 8 minutes and 30 seconds (something fast bowler Sisanda Magala failed to do and was subsequently dropped), the marker for the female players is placed at a minute longer.

Previously, CSA had a cut-off of 10 minutes for female cricketers, but that was more of a guide than a strict selection criterion per se.

It is worthwhile to note van Niekerk's teammate Lizelle Lee was also dropped from the team after she could not meet body composition requirements. Lee retired from international cricket soon after, saying that she felt victimised and body shamed.


The 29-year-old cricketer's wife, Marizanne Kapp has pulled out of the tri-series final against India and the duo is rumoured to be contemplating retirement from international cricket.

The arguments in van Niekerk's favour are that a minor 18 seconds cannot be the differentiator between being part of the World Cup squad and sitting at home. Perhaps, the CSA management could have included her provisionally in the squad and chalked out a long-term fitness plan, rather than cracking the whip.

As it is, Dane van Niekerk has played all her career, and quite successfully at that, at potentially lower levels of fitness than what she can currently boast of and has still managed to emerge as one of the most successful South African cricketers – faring better than most who might be considered fitter than her in the general sense of the term.

Already lacking experience in the absence of Lizelle Lee, Mignon du Preez and Trisha Chetty, South Africa could have done with an astute thinker, a leader who commands the respect of her players and a world-class all-rounder capable of swinging matches by herself.

For the record, she is the second-highest scorer for South Africa in T20Is, and the third-highest wicket-taker for her country, only behind Shabnim Ismail and Marizanne Kapp, since her T20I debut in 2009.

Just like in Lee's case, van Niekerk was reportedly not provided with any support system to achieve the necessary fitness standard. Rather, she was left to fend for herself, meeting the management only when she was called for her fitness test.


The Rising Stakes of Fitness in Cricket

Moreover, unlike football or hockey, cricket does not necessarily require back-breaking levels of fitness and your skill with the bat or the ball can often overpower athletic ability.

That said, there has been a push for higher levels of fitness and endurance in modern-day cricket to help players recover quickly and not get injured too often.

Former Indian captain Virat Kohli who is rightly credited for bringing a fitness revolution in the sport in India has his two cents to offer on how fitness helps in improving one's game.


“Fitness for me is probably more important than cricket practice. I honestly feel that having a fit body makes you think better as well. During 2019 ODI World Cup, in every game my energy level was 120 percent. My recovery was so fast that the average distance I covered in a game was 15 kms. I would come back, do my recovery treatments and travel to another city and soon I was ready to train again. I played each game at high intensity and never felt like this before. There was no stiffness in my body," he once stated.

Indian fans might remember the instance when Sanju Samson, Rohit Sharma and Mohammed Shami were dropped after failing to clear the Yo-Yo test ahead of India's marquee tour of England in 2018. To their credit, Shami and Rohit Sharma found a way back into the squad after clearing the test and the overall message it sent has only helped in improving the fitness standards in Indian cricket over time.


A Step in the Right Direction?

It is tough to criticize Cricket South Africa for taking a stand as Sisanda Magala and Lizelle Lee had to be dropped in the recent past to honour these very standards. To his credit, Magala worked on his fitness and is currently part of the South African ODI squad facing England.

One can argue that the end goal of all endeavours should be to ultimately win matches of cricket and the all-important World Cups and that the means should not take precedence over the end. However, providing Dane van Niekerk leeway because of her high profile would have been unfair to Magala and Lee.

Objectively stating, the proven all-rounder had ample time to work on her fitness and meet the requirements, unless of course there is some medical condition which is not in the public domain.

To the annoyed South African fans, there is little doubt that van Niekerk's exclusion will hamper the host's chances in the upcoming event big time, but it might only be a good thing in the long run. Once a line is drawn in the sand, and you have to draw it somewhere, right, it will lead players to attach more importance to fitness which will only lift the country’s cricketing standard across a decade or so.


Dane van Niekerk is just 29 and has a fair few years of competitive cricket ahead of her. While it may currently seem like the end of the world to her, what is perhaps best for her is to put her head down, work on her fitness, meet the criterion and be back representing her country at the earliest.

As harsh as it may sound, this is professional sport, and there are no consolation prizes to be had. All one can offer is empathy and best wishes for her future.

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