The Many Movements of Mignon du Preez

Experienced Momentum Proteas’ Mignon du Preez continues to play a vital role in the team’s ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup campaign in New Zealand. Photo: Mignon du Preez (Instagram)

When Mignon du Preez bats, there is always movement. Movement across the stumps; movement up and down the pitch; and most importantly, movement in the game. Sometimes, the movements are so many, and so fast, it feels like everything is happening at hyper speed.

When du Preez is batting at her best, her methods can be described as paradoxical: they are frenetic, but there is a sense of stillness as well. As she takes her stance, her bat is constantly flapping – up and down, forward and back. There is a search for momentum, something to accentuate her incredible hand speed. Her knees are bent, her front foot is twitching, but the rest of her is still: head steady, eyes level, breath in control. She is crouched like a lioness ready to pounce.

In the early stages of the 2022 ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup, one could almost sense the tension when du Preez came into bat. The desperation to perform for her team and live up to her own lofty expectations seemed to be weighing her down.

She managed scores of 18, 0, 8 and 1 in the first four games. Her feet stuck in the crease, she was often left feeling for or throwing her hands at the ball – body following, rather than leading her through the movements. It was strange. It felt unnatural; almost as if her feet were stuck in cement. It was a far cry from the du Preez who had come to dominate T20 competitions around the world.

Return of Form

In last week’s encounter against Australia, du Preez began to find a better rhythm. Coming into bat with the Momentum Proteas comfortably placed at 213 for 4 in the 44th over, she had the license to play freely. In a short, 13-ball knock, something appeared to click.

A few days later, in the match against West Indies, her luck truly began to turn.

After she was dropped first ball by Deandra Dottin at slip du Preez let loose. The frenetic movements across the stumps were back, but there was a tranquility that also came with them. Despite the game situation and the apparent domination of the opposition, South Africa were in control; du Preez made sure of it with a brisk 31-ball 38 in which she crunched a couple of cut shots, caressed the ball through cover and flicked authoritatively off her pads.

“I think what got me into trouble in the first few games was that I felt like I got stuck at the crease,” the former Proteas skipper said. “I’m really good when I use my feet, when I’m busy at the crease and I think I kind of lost that trying to get myself in, in the first few games.

“I decided for the last bit, I’m just going to have positive intent from ball one. It might not be looking to hit it over the top, but just actually get to the ball, and show good intent.”

Calm for the Storm

On Sunday (27 March) when she walked out to bat in South Africa’s chase of 275 against India at Hagley Oval in Christchurch, du Preez was visibly calm. She had, in typical style, bounded out into the middle to join her skipper Suné Luus. There was an intensity in her eyes that overshadowed every other emotion she may have been feeling at that point. Blazing blue, they searched only for one thing: an opportunity to score.

She was dancing around the crease to pace and spin alike: constantly changing her guard, moving across and away from the stumps and forcing the bowlers to re-think their plans. There was all this movement, but there was stillness as well – the feet and hands were in motion, but her head stayed supremely steady, waiting intently for the ball.

In between deliveries, du Preez’s head turned rapidly, this way, then that, as she scanned the field, searching for gaps she wanted to pierce. Then, once she settled into her stance, it was simple: watch the ball, and manoeuvre the body to be able to find those spaces.

In contrast to her early form in the tournament, du Preez’s efforts to get on top of the Indian bowlers did not feel forced. At the start of her innings, she was happy to dance down the track and hit down the ground. When the spinners pitched short, she rocked back, gave herself a bit of room and accessed the large gaps on the off-side. There was a calculatedness and sense of control around all her actions. There was also a real belief.

As Marizanne Kapp had said a few days earlier, du Preez truly “looked a million dollars”.

Calmly and quietly, she helped South Africa inch closer to their target, sharing important partnerships with Luus, Kapp and Chloe Tryon along the way. And when the clutch moments came, she was there at the centre of it all – feeding her partners the strike, smashing Pooja Vastrakar for a couple of boundaries, and in the final over, getting South Africa over the line.

The winning run – a nudge past mid-wicket – was greeted with an elated jump, a punch to the air, and a relieved look to the heavens. Du Preez had moved all around the crease to find 52 runs for her team, and the cricketing gods had moved heaven and earth to get her past the finish line.

Of course, she was fortunate at times, but all athletes need a stroke of luck occasionally. For du Preez, all the movements and the moment were just meant to be.

 

Photo 1 Caption: Experienced Momentum Proteas’ Mignon du Preez continues to play a vital role in the team’s ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup campaign in New Zealand. Photo: Mignon du Preez (Instagram)

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