Dane van Niekerk and the joy for cricket, rekindling a love on the WPL stage

Dane Van Niekerk, who is currently playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the inaugural season of the Women’s Premier League (WPL), had already hinted at retirement in a cryptic tweet a few days ago. However, it was her wife and South African teammate Marizanne Kapp (also playing in the WPL for Delhi Capitals), who formally announced her retirement, post her team’s match against Gujarat Giants.  

Dane’s retirement comes after her snub from the national team for the 2023 T20 World Cup, something which had raised a lot of eyebrows. The 29-year-old former SA captain, whose career spanned 14 years, faulted by 18 seconds in her fitness test, thus ruling her out of the premier tournament that was held in her home country in February.   

Her experience will certainly be missed. She has a stupendous record of 1877 runs and 65 wickets in T20Is overall, between 2009-2021. In the ODIs, on the other hand, she became the third woman cricketer to score 1000 runs, pick 50 wickets and have 50 catches to her name.  

Sportstar caught up with her in Mumbai in the run-up to the WPL, speaking to her about everything that went down with her snub and how she came to terms with it.  

“Honestly, I am probably still struggling with it, just to come to terms with how successful the World Cup was, and I really wanted to be part of the team. I’m very happy for them making the final since the country needed that, especially at a World Cup, and, you know, they carried themselves well and they did the country and themselves justice.”

“It’s a bitter pill to swallow. I gave everything I could, I couldn’t have given more. I’m open and honest about those 18 seconds. I never asked for any exemptions, I never asked them to pick me and break the rules, but I truly believe that I was the fittest Dane that they’ve had in many years. But rules are rules and I, as the captain, will always adhere to it,” said Dane.  

Dane’s sudden exclusion from the World Cup also caused tumultuous times for her and Marizanne. But the pair tried to rise above the noise. “Oh, it was obviously tough at the time. When you go through a bad space you get angry at the people you love the most because you feel like the victim and like the world is against you. And, so yeah, there were some tough conversations.”

“You know, Marizanne has made it very public about how she supports me. So, it’s been just as hard on her as it has been on me. And for her to do so well at the World Cup despite all of this going on is testament to her character and the person she is. But it‘s good to have somebody that supports you and understands you in a way that no one else really can,” said Dane.  

Many touted the WPL as a platform of redemption for Dane. But, for her, the tournament is more about finding herself as a player again. “It’s about finding the Dane that I might have lost along the way through all the trials,” she said.  

“Firstly, I never thought I’ll be here. So, now, it’s just about finding my edge as a cricketer and my competitive self again. It’s easy to lose it if you haven’t been in it for long. You know you can bowl as many balls as you want in the nets but playing in front of thousands of people in a stadium is different. So, for me, it’s not about redemption or proving a point. It’s more about finding the joy for cricket again,” says the 29-year-old, while reflecting on her journey.  

While she is yet to play a match for RCB, she has hope. “(I intend to) find my way back into competitive cricket, set personal goals and just make the most of it. So that, you know, when I leave the WPL, even if I have played just one game, I will be in a better space, both physically and mentally.” In the end, for Dane, playing the WPL is just about, “working with elite people, who are ready to support me and value me as a cricketer again.”   

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