Talking Technique, Training, T20s and Tons with Laura Wolvaardt

Laura Wolvaardt is one of the best batters in the world. Her picture-perfect cover drive alone is enough to capture one’s imagination. But now, add to that the little flick off the pads, the punishing pull shot, the dainty late cuts and the swoon-worthy lofted shots over the off-side played with the most perfect technique, and you have a player who will leave you enthralled.

At only 23 years of age, the Momentum Proteas batter already owns many of South Africa’s ODI batting records – youngest to score a century, joint-most hundreds, highest average, most half-centuries – and is well on her way to claiming the rest.

In the recently concluded ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup in New Zealand, Wolvaardt scored 433 runs in eight innings, topping the charts at the end of the group stage. She even briefly held the No. 1 position in the ICC ODI batting rankings, before being overtaken by Australia’s Alyssa Healy.

Across her five-year international career, the right-hander has quickly evolved from somewhat of a one-shot/ one format wonder to a more complete batter with the ability to adjust her game according to the conditions and situation, taking down attacks from all around the world.

A self-confessed cricket lover, who watches the game whenever she can, Wolvaardt is now one of the senior batters within what is an evolving South African squad. Following the retirements of Mignon du Preez and her opening partner Lizelle Lee, the importance of her contributions have only increased.

In a free-flowing chat with Ananya Upendran, Wolvaardt throws light on her early memories, the development of her batting technique, how she unlocked her T20 potential, routines, superstitions and much more.

Speaking with gsport Global contributor, Ananya Upendran, Wolvaardt opens up about her journey to date.


What are your first memories of playing cricket?

I started playing when I was about 5 years old. I went to a school, Parklands College, and I was there throughout my whole schooling career. When I was in primary school, I was friends with a lot the boys in my class and they all started playing cricket one day at break time and I just tagged along and joined in on the game because, you know, my friends were playing and I didn’t want to miss out on the fun. And yeah, I just totally fell in love with the game – just really enjoyed it right from the start. We would play every single break time just because we loved it so much. It’s just something I have always played since then, I guess. I have just always enjoyed it and I still enjoy it really…


I read somewhere that you began opening the batting at school level because you thought it gave you the best opportunity to bat for a long time… or bat at all! Is that true?

Yeah, exactly that. It was sort of, if I opened, I would have a really good chance of batting, and batting for a long time. Because when you batted (No.) 3 or 4 you didn’t always get to bat at the games in school level. So, yeah, I wanted to open and I wanted to be there and make sure that I batted every single game. I guess I just really, really enjoyed batting and I am really lucky that I get to do that every single day today because I still enjoy it that much. And yeah, I definitely became a bit obsessed with it, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.


At what age did you start training formally and what did training look like for you as a young player?

Well, throughout primary school, so up until I was about 13 or 14 I just played school cricket and club cricket with the boys. So, that was just whatever the school had arranged: games against other schools and just training in the nets – all with boys’ teams.

Apart from that, I’ve always had private coaching with a coach called Laurie Ward – he’s in Cape Town. I still go to him today. It’s really nice because he really knows the ins and outs of my game. He’s known me since I was 5 years old, so he knows exactly how my game has developed. We do a lot of technical work together. He has those cameras at his centre, so we use the cameras quite a lot to see the technique and see what my hands are doing and that type of thing. That’s where I do a lot of my technical work even now. And then, in high school, I joined the Western Province Under-19 girls’ team and then Western Province Women’s team and then eventually graduated into the South African team. So, it was kind of just a journey through the ranks and through those teams. Just a lot of games and trials and playing with different teams and different experiences. So, I think all of that really helped develop my cricket.


You were somewhat fast-tracked into the national team and took to international cricket like a duck to water – 55 in your second game, a hundred soon after that. Do you remember those early knocks and how you dealt with your emotions or processed your thoughts as a young batter at the top level?

I was definitely very young when I made my debut. Thinking back now, I might have been a little bit too young, I don’t know. (Laughs) But yeah, I was definitely very nervous in that first series. I think it was against England as well… So, I was very nervous for those first couple of games. I remember it was actually quite funny because I was then facing, like, Katherine Brunt, Anya Shrubsole, all of these bowlers who I now know are some of the greats in the game, but back then I had no idea who they were. I just rocked up to the team and started playing and it was actually sort of a good thing, I think, because I was just playing because I really enjoyed it. I was just watching the ball and reacting…

Sometimes you can get like… you can overthink the bowlers. So, it was actually a good period in my career because I was really just having fun and just enjoying being in the side and not overthinking things too much, which is something that I can learn from now sometimes! I do remember being very nervous and not quite knowing everything that I should have, I think. But yeah, it was such a great experience, just being out there playing for South Africa and getting to do what I love.


At what point did you start to feel comfortable or confident at international level?

I think in ODI cricket I’ve always felt sort of comfortable. I feel like I always knew what my role was, and my plan was just to kind of bat a long time and everyone else sort of batted around me in the innings and I would kind of play that anchoring role. But I think in my T20 cricket I definitely had to find my way a bit; [I was] definitely uncomfortable for my first couple of seasons.

I think the turning point would probably be the T20 World Cup in Australia (in 2020). I moved down the order to No. 4 or 5 and had a couple of good innings in that World Cup and I think that was the first time that I realised how to go about my game in T20 cricket. Before that I would try to play like, not like myself… I would try to hit big sixes and do things that weren’t really in my gameplan. But yeah, just to find a way to make my ODI game work for T20s as well… I’d say that World Cup was turning point for that.


At the start of your career, you were seen as someone who kind of plonked her front foot forward and your hands accessed the ball from there – something that meant you were found out quickly, especially against spin. What work did you need to go back and do in order to develop more scoring options against different types of bowling and different conditions?

Yeah – I think growing up and opening the batting a lot had something to do with that (front foot dominant technique). In Cape Town it rains a lot in the winter as well, so we are usually indoors for about 6 months of the year. So, training was a lot of indoors, a lot of seam, and I would just plonk my front foot straight down the wicket and throw my hands from there. I definitely had a lot of work to do after making my debut. I think it was just about facing a lot of spin and changing the way I trained a little – not just coming into the indoors and having people bowl fast at me, but like slowing it right down, facing a lot of spin, doing a lot of drills, going on the back foot as well – just those types of things that allowed me to open up different options. So, yeah, I’ve definitely done a lot of work against spin, and my T20 game as well needed a bit of work. So, between the two of them I had to work hard for a few years there.


Watching your old videos, your setup hasn’t changed massively in terms of the way you pick up the bat, but you’ve altered your stance a little – widened it a bit and shifted your weight forward. What was the rationale behind that and what do you think those changes have allowed you to do better?

I think when I made my debut I was quite upright in my stance, or I felt quite upright and my hands were a bit more away from me, and I just felt like I couldn’t really move from there. Like, the only way I could go was to fall forward, so I think I’ve tried to lower it a little bit and widen my stance a little bit and just bring my hands a bit closer so I just feel like I am more ready before the ball is coming. I can feel my hands a bit closer to me, so I know where they are a bit better. So, I think that’s the only major change I have made – nothing too drastic. But I think just getting a bit lower and leaning forward a bit has made me feel more ready, I guess.


Speaking of technique, are you someone who likes to experiment with different techniques or methods, or are you of the opinion, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’?

Yeah – I try to not change much at all; I don’t very much like to. (Laughs) I’ll only change if I really think it is causing me problems or something like that, but I am very particular about how I go about my routines and my things. So, I would never change something right before a game just-because-I-felt-like it-type of thing.


Through this conversation you’ve spoken a lot about your hands. Just from watching you bat, one of the things that stands out is your hand speed through the ball… When you train, how much of your attention is on what your hands are doing rather than your feet or head?

It’s (hand position and hand speed) always something that I am consciously working on. I think, my hands are quite key to my game… Sometimes, they slightly creep behind me and then you can’t even see my back lift, and when that happens, I need to check the videos and make sure it comes out a little bit because then an on drive becomes very hard for me if my hands are like way behind me. It’s just something that I am always checking and making sure they are in the right place. Sometimes in my back lift they kind of go too far, to like second slip, and then from there it’s very hard to come back down again… So yeah, I just try to keep everything in straight lines and keep it very simple and make sure that they are not doing too much that I can’t see behind me! (Laughs) So, I guess you can say that my hands are something I focus on a lot.


I can’t talk to you without asking about the cover drive… Where did Laura Wolvaardt’s cover drive come from? What’s the story behind it? Because it seems that most players’ trademark shots have an interesting origin story…  Think Suzie Bates and the cut shot that she played because that was where the gap was in her backyard, Jemimah Rodrigues developed the sweep because it was the only shot in which she could use her entire bodyweight as a puny nine-year-old…

(Laughs) Not really. I guess it’s just something that since I was opening the batting a lot and wanted to bat for a long time, bowlers would often just bowl outside off stump because that’s what you’re kind of told to do when you are opening the bowling. So, I just faced a lot of balls that were pitched over there and played a lot of cover drives growing up. And yeah, like I said, just training with my coach Laurie and with the cameras and stuff, just making sure my technique is right for it and getting my hands right. So, I have put a lot of work into it. We think that if you have a good technique or foundation to go off of, it’s easier to sort of build your game around that. But yeah, no crazy origin story or anything like that.


You’re currently in England for a multi-format series – as a batter, how do you prepare for a tour? Are there things you focus on specific to where you are traveling to?

Yeah, I guess so – especially the work that I would do at home even before I leave (for camp). So, if there were an India tour coming up, we would probably focus a lot on spin back at home and just really slow it right down and have a lot of spinning drills and that type of thing. Whereas if we are going to Australia, I might work on my short ball a bit more at home. For England, it would be playing the swinging ball… Just small things like that. But I think the basics still stay the same. Once I am on tour it’s just more general nets sessions and hitting a lot balls and getting used to conditions. But the specifics would be more when I am at home.


And once you are on tour, how do you approach things the day before a game? Are you someone who likes to have a long net? Or do you prefer taking some throwdowns just to build your confidence?

I think, leading up to a game I like to hit a lot of balls – like, in the weeks leading up to it. I think I am a bit of a volume batter; I am not just a feeling batter who can come in and hit 20 (balls) and say ‘alright, cool I feel good’. So, I definitely hit quite a few in the weeks leading up to the game. And then, on game day eve I wouldn’t hit too many balls, but I’ll definitely go through a good net session, hit a few balls and I usually do some extras afterwards as well – just something specific that I feel I need a little work on just before the game tomorrow, just to touch it up, whether it be something small technical…

And then, usually just the evening before the game I have this little cricket book that I write a lot in: just like how I am feeling, what my plans are for tomorrow, what the bowlers are going to try and do. It helps me kind of go over my thoughts a little bit and it just helps to see it on paper – what to remember and stuff like that. So, I’d probably just do that… But yeah, nothing too drastic.


How long have you kept a journal?

Probably since I started playing for South Africa – so, probably about 5 years. I have a couple of books now. But yeah, it’s really helps me before games, especially if I am feeling nervous or something like that, just to write down exactly what I need to do. If you see it on paper you feel a lot better because you already know what you need to do. It’s actually been really helpful just with the traveling and playing in different grounds. I try and make notes of where I have played before, what happened there. Or I make notes of how I was feeling when I batted well. And then at other times, when I am not batting well, I can kind of reflect on that and see what I was doing. So, I feel like it has really helped a lot throughout my career.


Do you go back and actually look at those books sometimes?

Yeah… Or like, say we are playing against England now, I would go back to my previous series against England and just see what I was thinking, what my plans were to the bowlers. So, it’s like a cricket archive – it’s very cool.


Lara Goodall told me that you are a massive stats person and love watching videos. How often do you sit with a coach or analyst and dissect your technique or maybe watch opposition bowler videos to create game plans?

Opposition bowlers not that much… Just because I have faced a lot of them and sort of know what they do already. It’s more if I don’t know someone that I would watch the footage quite a bit more. But for example, like, some of the England bowlers, I faced quite a lot. So, won’t watch too much of them – just sort of see what their plans are in the match and see what areas they bowled and those types of things.

And regarding my own technique, it would probably be more like around my dismissals. If I got out and am not too sure what happened there – if it was a technical thing or something like that – then I definitely get the videos and send it off to Laurie, my coach at home, and just ask him ‘was this something technical?’, ‘what’s happening with my hands?’, and just chat around it.

Yeah, I do like my stats as well though. I check stats a lot and check scorecards and strike rates and really interested in all of that stuff, so I do spend a bit of time on that!


So, are you aware of all the milestones coming your way, or records you could potentially break?

Generally! (Laughs) If I am close to like… Like 3000 runs the other day (against Ireland), I knew I was close to it… So, stuff like that – I’m aware of it most of the time.


You touched upon the development of your T20 game earlier – how big a challenge was that? In women’s cricket what tends to happen is that players are sometimes boxed into two categories – you’re either an accumulator or a basher. Did you ever feel like you were caged by the perception that you couldn’t crack T20 cricket? And how did you break out of that mould?

Yeah, definitely. I think it’s very easy to box players into ODI cricket or T20 cricket when they are younger and I definitely felt like that was happening with me, that I was being seen as just an ODI player because even in ODI cricket, at the beginning of my career, my strike rate was pretty slow. So, I was already batting slow in ODI cricket, so how on earth would I play T20 cricket? So, it definitely took a lot of work. But I think it was more mental than anything else. Just figuring out how to adapt my game to T20 cricket without having to hit big sixes was certainly something I had to figure out with trial and error and playing a lot of games. And it’s sometimes difficult when you feel like everyone else’s opinions are sort of different to your own and they all feel that you can’t do it. So, I’m glad I was able to sort of break through.

I feel like my shift to the middle order helped with that quite a lot. I came in in the middle (overs) and the field was spread and I could sort of just take my singles off my first 10 balls just relax, be 10 off 10 and then take it from there. Whereas before, I just batted in the powerplay and felt a lot of pressure to score fast runs. And like I said, I was trying to bat not like me… So yeah, I think that shift helped as well.


How challenging was it through that time, to be sitting on the sidelines, waiting for an opportunity? Because up until then, having broken into the side as a young player and experiencing quite a bit of success, you hadn’t quite faced those situations. So, how did you deal with that disappointment?

Yeah, it was frustrating, especially because I felt like I knew I could do it and play in T20 cricket. I just sort of didn’t really figure out how to show that yet and do it well in the games. So, it was a frustrating season or two where I was on the side quite a lot in T20 cricket. But yeah… I guess I just bided my time there and slowly… It was sort of like an overnight thing though. I had that one really good innings in Australia at the World Cup and from there on I just was a different batter sort of in T20 cricket. So, I think from then it’s been okay.


A bit more on that T20 turnaround, did you find the role change difficult to get used to? I mean, as someone who had been opening the batting throughout their career, what was it then like to sit in the dugout, padded up, waiting for your turn to bat?

It was definitely strange! (Laughs) I’m definitely used to putting on the pads and going out straight away. It was the first time that I hadn’t really opened, but that change was just before that T20 World Cup. It was sort of either that or kind of be dropped from the side. So, I am very thankful that they found a place for me at No 4 and 5 and had the idea to throw me in there.

I think they told me the morning of one of the warm-up games that I would be going No 5 and that warm-up game actually went really well. I remember just coming out to bat and seeing all of the gaps and all four of the fielders out and I was just like, ‘oh – this is a bit easier; I can just get off strike quite easily’. So, I think it was definitely like an overnight switch and a big mindset switch for me as well.


Coaches often speak about the need for a routine ahead of every ball – a way to centre yourself before you are ready to face the bowler. What are your routines between balls? Do you have a set pattern that you follow?

Nothing too specific. It’s more leading up to the game that I try to make sure that it’s the same, and in the warm-up, I’d have like a specific warm-up routine and that type of thing. But in the actual game I just try to I sort of make my mark with my foot between the balls and then just try to focus on just the ball and forget about everything else and just watch the ball. I don’t have anything specific like counting fielders or something like that.


Speaking of routines… Batters are a strange breed – they all have their quirks or superstitions, or ‘habits’ as they like to call them. Neil McKenzie would tape his bats to the ceiling, I think Smriti Mandhana only wears full sleeves shirts when she bats… Do you have any superstitions that you have to tick off?

Well, there’s probably of things! (Laughs) If you mention things like that… Like I’d only bat in a short sleeved short – long sleeve would be uncomfortable! Before every game I sort of tap like a golf ball on my bat – I feel like it helps me get in the zone and just focus on that. I always put on my right pad and right shoe first… Just small things like that. I am quite specific about my gear as well: I have match day gloves, I have match day like clothes, I have match day GPS vests, sports bra, that type of thing… I guess that’s it!


And what about your ponytail that has now changed to a bun? That big ponytail was your trademark…

I first changed when we went to India. The ponytail was just very, very hot and it got a bit sticky and sweaty, so I just put it up in the bun and yeah, I just kept it. I think it’s a bit lighter and a bit fresher. My mom prefers the ponytail, so she’s very upset every time I wear the bun, but yeah. I think it works a bit better.


So, it’s not a superstition then?

No! It was sort of… It was hard to make the change just because I don’t like changing much. So, it was like a gradual change: every now and then I’d use the bun and see how the game went. But yeah, it’s not superstition anymore… It’s just easier; there’s less going on! (Laughs)


Back to your batting then… When you’re out in the middle, you appear quite calm and composed – your emotions rarely show. But in a recent press conference Shabnim Ismail spoke of how you were quite frustrated and animated in the nets. What is Laura Wolvaardt like in the nets and how do you switch on that calm persona come game time?

I do get a bit frustrated. I remember that session Shabnim was talking about, we both just weren’t having a good day and we spoke about it afterwards.

Sometimes it’s hard for me when I don’t do everything perfectly, especially the day before the game (because) I want my net session to go pretty well. So, I get easily frustrated if I would nick off early or something like that in the nets. But then I’d usually do my extras after the session, just come back with the coach and just whatever I did wrong, kind of work on that for 15 mins extra just so I feel a bit better about it. But yeah, I think it’s something that I have been trying to do better lately – is just to go less on feeling and more just on the thoughts and processes. Because sometimes you can get caught up in that frustration and have it ruin your whole net session. It’s definitely a work in progress – it’s something I am still trying to learn. But it’s nice to know it comes across as calm and composed in a game! (Laughs)


Do you watch a lot of cricket when you are not playing? And are you one of those players who watches and analyses techniques and tactics, or do you just watch because it’s fun?

I’m definitely a big cricket fan; I just watch to watch because I enjoy it. I will have it on in the room and watch it for a lot of the day when I am in my room. Yeah, especially women’s cricket as well – I really like following it and just watching all of the games. So, but not to analyse anything just because I enjoy watching.


There’s so much talk about how good you are and how good you can become. Dané van Niekerk has even gone on record to say that she thinks you will end up being one of South Africa’s greatest ever. How do you deal with or react to those kinds of statements and the pressure that comes with it? Have you set yourself any long-term goals around where you would want to finish?

I guess it’s not something I try thinking about too much – whether I am good or not. There are just certain things that I am trying to work towards; like, I think all the greats of the game like Meg Lanning, Mithali Raj they all average 50 or above in ODI cricket. So, that is one of my goals: to try to up my average a bit. It’s always hovering around 44 or 45. So, I think to get it up to 50 is one of my main goals at the moment. And then obviously just trying to better my conversion rate a little bit and get a few more hundreds – that’s my other goal. So, I feel like if I just keep working towards those things and keep working hard to achieve them the rest will sort of fall into place where it needs to be, I guess.


Speaking of conversion rates, you’ve had a string of half-centuries in recent times, but haven’t gotten past that 100-mark. Is that something that frustrates you a little bit?

Yeah, it does frustrate me a little bit, especially because in a couple of those games I probably could have gotten to 100, but I sort of went out trying to smash it in the last couple of overs to get more runs for the team.

So, like the Ireland game (3rd ODI) I got out on 89 and we ended up having like 200 (189) runs too many, but I went out trying to hit a six to score more runs. So, in hindsight, I probably could have taken singles and gotten to my century, but in the moment, you are trying to do whatever you can for the team. So, if it does happen and I get across the line and get a hundred, then it’s great, but at the end of the day that’s the main focus – to play the scenario and get the team in a good position. And I think if I want to get a hundred, I should score a bit faster earlier so I can get it before the last 10 (overs)! (Laughs)

Maybe (that will happen) this time around!

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