Mignon du Preez has retired from international cricket but continues to be involved
In heels, Mignon du Preez broke through the glass ceiling of the cricket. In a way.
“When people hear the word “cricketer,” they assume you have to be rather masculine. They do not think you can be a girly cricketer. They think that you can not possibly catch a ball if you get your nails done. I was trying to show that you can be a girly girl and still be competitive,” she claims. “There was definitely a time when people thought cricket was just for boys.”
Du Preez was one of the “Iconic Women” who recently participated in the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup Trophy Tour. She is now retired and hopes to start a family after playing international cricket for more than 15 years and witnessing the transition of South African women’s cricket from amateur to professional. And Mignon du Preezdid it all with long blonde hair.
“We had to change people’s perception,” she says. “There was a lack of visibility. Nobody knew about us. Our games were not televised, and girls’ cricket was not a popular sport in schools. The hardest part was convincing girls to participate in the sport
There was no girls’ team at her elementary school, so like many of the first female cricketers, she played with boys. “There was one parent who complained because there was a girl [du Preez] on the team and her son was not playing, and I remember the coaches saying, ‘But she’s better than him,'” she recalls.
Du Preez was only 12 when Mignon du Preez scored 258 in a 40-over match and “kind of realised that cricket could be a career choice.”
Five years later, she made her international debut. “It was during the vacations, and one of the players got injured, and I was called up,” she explains.
South Africa’s national team matches were televised for the first time in seven years of their career. SuperSport broadcast the three-match T20I series between South Africa and England in September 2014. That same year, du Preez’s team had advanced to the semifinals of the T20 World Cup. Interest from broadcasters was the reward for a good campaign, but they were unable to repay the faith straight away. South Africa were completely outclassed in their first two games in England and lost the third as well, although they put up a better fight.
Du Preez was halfway through her captaincy at the time, a role she was thrust into almost by accident at the age of 22 when the regular captain was injured. “I was a very young captain and felt like I was thrown in at the deep end and didn’t really know much,” Mignon du Preez explains. “On the first few tours, I almost needed a script to know who was bowling when and where.
“But I thought I was really good at dealing with people. I had an open-door policy and was committed to getting the best out of the players. We weren’t professionals, so we just tried to change the perception
That same year, du Preez played her first and only Test match, scoring a century that she considers one of the highlights of her career, though not for the reasons you might think.
“It was really special, but also quite a challenging experience,” she said. “The thing I remember most was getting out in the second innings,” she says. “Because I had played so well in the first innings, I was hoping I could pick up where I left off. Poonam Yadav was bowling to me, and I had my mind set on hitting her with my feet when she threw the ball up. But she’s also a leg-spinner, so if she threw it to leg, a sweep was a good option. She ended up throwing it up and down her leg, and I double-stepped and missed it completely, so I was up. It wasn’t a normal test match strike. These days, with so much innovative cricket being played, you can get away with it, but it wasn’t the typical drop you see in a Test match.”
For most South Africans, the game would have gone unnoticed. The women’s team only became a major talking point in national cricket in 2017, when du Preez stepped down as captain but played her 100th ODI and South Africa reached the semifinals of the 50-over World Cup. “From that point on, people took notice and our players became role models,” he said. “That was the point where the big change happened,” Mignon du Preez explained.
South Africa will be in the spotlight for women’s sports in 2023. The country hosted the inaugural U19 Women’s T20 World Cup last month and the Senior World Cup this month. In July/August, the country will host the Netball World Cup, and the women’s football team will compete in its second consecutive World Cup – an incredible feat considering the men have not qualified for the event in 20 years (they automatically qualified as hosts in 2010).
Du Preez no longer plays for South Africa, but is still an avid observer on the sidelines and an athlete through and through. She was also in the nets on the day of this interview.
“It’s almost like riding a bike, but it’s not always like that,” she says. “The last time I did not play for a while, I had trouble with timing because I was so intent on getting the bat to the ball that I was too early on every shot. But I think today I was much more relaxed. I think that comes with age. You are allowed to make mistakes in practice, and I made fewer than I expected.”
Du Preez, like many other cricketers, has signed up for the WPL auction, where she hopes to land a contract that will change her life. While Mignon du Preez is aware that the growth of the leagues could pose a threat to the international game, no one will blame her for wanting to make money after spending so much of her career in the amateur game. “These leagues pay their players really well, but at the end of the day you want the best players to be available for the national team, and to do that you have to pay them well enough so they want to play for their country,” she says.
That’s essentially the reason for her own resignation as well. Du Preez was unable to keep her central contract after she pulled out of ODI cricket last April because the CSA does not offer contracts that cover only one format. Needing to pay her bills, she decided to retire and seek opportunities in franchise leagues.
She will not make a national comeback at the World Cup, but she will participate in the tournament as a commentator. However, she will be rooting for South Africa. “If I think with my heart, I think they are going to win,” she says. “But realistically, Australia has dominated women’s cricket in recent years, and they are just so far ahead. They have a lot of talent to choose from. We in South Africa do not have such a big pool. But I am looking forward to seeing some other teams. England has also invested a lot, and India has been very good recently, and it would be very good if they do well, because if India does well, women’s cricket does well.”
Du Preez is interested in closing the gap between the top teams and the rest. She participated in the inaugural Fairbreak T20 tournament in the United Arab Emirates last year and has since served as a marketing consultant for the organization. She believes competitions like this help level the playing field.
“Fairbreak offers players from associated countries the opportunity to earn a living from cricket. They get their first professional contract and get to play with their idols. From Stafanie Taylor and Sophie Devine to Marizanne Kapp and Ayabonga Khaka, we have had all the big names involved,” she says.
And while events like Fairbreak are competitive, it’s less about which team wins or loses and more about the people who benefit. “The camaraderie has made this tournament even more memorable. When you go to a World Cup, WBBL or Hundred, the atmosphere is electric and the competition fierce. At this tournament, the sport just brought everyone together. It was amazing to see how the players interacted with each other, how the full members shared their knowledge with the associate players and how everyone cheered them on. Everyone was cheering for Wini [Malaysia captain Winifred Duraisingam]. It’s growing and will provide more opportunities.”
Henriette Ishimwe, a then 18-year-old Rwandan player, took four wickets in four balls at the U-19 World Cup to lead Rwanda to a historic first win at a major tournament. Ishimwe had fans from her time at Fairbreak long before Mignon du Preez accomplished that feat. “My husband wanted me to speak to Henriette because he wanted her jersey,” du Preez explains.
Du Preez and her husband, Tony, broke another glass ceiling in the process. Female athletes have only recently become role models, especially in team sports, and du Preez believes that trend will continue as perceptions change. “I was on the commentary team for the U-19 Women’s T20 World Cup, and I looked at the biographies of the players and realised that so many of the girls had female role models, and I thought: Wow, we did something right. Finally.”
De Zorzi now has a chance to become the star he has always wanted to be.
Tony de Zorzi returned to the Wanderers eight years after he was captain of King Edwards VII, one of Johannesburg’s best schools, and seven years after he led South Africa’s Under-19 team to a World Cup where they were the defending champions but finished in 11th place. He found friends he didn’t know he had.
There were a few of my friends here, and it’s always nice to have my mum watching,” de Zorzi said. “Some people said they were my friends, but I’ve never met them.”
Natasha raised de Zorzi on her own, and he has always wanted to be the best he could be for her. She doesn’t watch him play much anymore because he took the long way to become an international cricket player. He went to the same school as Neil McKenzie and Graeme Smith, then to Pretoria, and finally to Cape Town, which is 1400 kilometres away from where he grew up. In a way, it was good for de Zorzi to play his first Test match on the Highveld and get his first fifty while Natasha was watching.
He said, “She always sits in the same spot, so I knew where she was.” “Since I’m in Cape Town, she hasn’t been able to watch many games. I hope I can get three figures the next time she comes.”
De Zorzi has set high goals for himself. In the last two years, only one of his teammates has scored a hundred at home, and only two others (Sarel Erwee and Kyle Verreynne, neither of whom is playing in this series) have reached 100. But because he has let people down in the past, he knows this is his chance to step up.
“My life has changed a lot since I played for SA under-19,” de Zorzi said. “I was captain, but I wasn’t the star of that side,” he said.
Because Wiaan Mulder did it. When De Zorzi came back from the World Cup for his age group, he had to go back to club cricket and “start over.” He played for the University of Pretoria team, which was led by Kruger van Wyk, who is now the fielding coach. Then he got a job with Northerns, where he kept getting better and better and averaged almost 80 for the second-tier provincial team in the summer of 2016–17. In the summer of 2020, he moved to Western Province, where Ashwell Prince was the head coach. Since then, he has been made captain.
This summer, he is averaging over 100, mostly because of his unbeaten 304 against the Knights, when Gerald Coetzee was part of his attack (though admittedly not many other big names).
“It’s been a long process, and I’m glad it’s come to this,” said de Zorzi. “It also reminds me of where I came from and to not get too far ahead of myself because I had to do a lot of dirty work to get there. Some guys start getting it a little bit earlier. Mine is starting to come true right now.”
After averaging over 48 in three of the last four seasons, de Zorzi was hard to ignore in this Test squad, but it took a change in leadership for that to happen. He got his chance because the new red-ball coach, Shukri Conrad, also acts as a selector when there isn’t a panel. “We knew it would be a new start when the coaches changed,” de Zorzi said. “If everyone took a chance and did well, you knew there would be a new set of eyes and maybe even more chances. That was a lot of fun. Dean Elgar, who was captain at the time, used to say that the number of runs you scored would get you into the team. Guys knew that they had to have a good season if they wanted to move up. There was nothing else to do.”
But now that it has, players like de Zorzi need to take control of their space. He showed West Indies’ attack what he was made of in the first Test, and Kyle Mayers saw it. “This guy seems to have everything together,” he said. “He is square of the wicket and strong.”
De Zorzi is very good at the cut shot. In this innings, he got almost a third of his runs with the cut shot. However, the West Indies had already figured him out from the first Test. At the SuperSport Park, they tried to give him less space. De Zorzi said, “They stick to the basics a little bit longer.” “You might get a few less bad balls, but international cricketers who do their homework are going to do it. I could tell they had different plans based on how they bowled to me today compared to how they did it at SuperSport Park. They can make it harder for you to score. And, of course, the intensity is a little bit higher. When I got out, I was really tired. It is not easy.”
But so was de Zorzi. During the free-flowing afternoon session in South Africa, he played well. Natasha sat still in the Memorial Stand the whole time. De Zorzi made his first sign to her when he hit Alzarri Joseph out of the ground with the 82nd ball he faced. She would have been incredibly proud, no doubt. As the pitch got faster and West Indies made a comeback, De Zorzi faced 73 more balls and scored 35 more runs.
They lost five wickets for 64 runs after tea, so the game is now tied. If South Africa can’t score more than 350, West Indies might be able to fight back. If you give up on that, on a pitch that is already starting to turn, the game might be over. Either way, it’s set up to bring in people who didn’t know they liked cricket, especially during a mid-week Test match when only a small part of the stadium is filled. But it’s important. And de Zorzi knows that better than anyone else.
The collapse that never came at Hagley Oval involving Sri Lanka
The skies are gray and heavy, like a wet blanket that will soon be thrown over the whole series. The field is so full of plants that animals that live in the woods have moved in. The outfield is wet, and sometimes a cold drizzle falls on biting winds. And while the local bowlers, who are all big and tall, are nimble and strong in their warm-up overs on the practice pitches, the Sri Lankan batters, who are covered in wool sweaters, face throwdowns and look like they are about to be sacrificed on an altar of seam bowling.
Get the coin. Put Sri Lanka in. Watch the ball jump gleefully off the edges of the bats and into the hands of the slip cordon as batter after batter falls like marionettes, the scoreboard showing 45-3, then 67-5, and a few swipes at the end pushing the total just over 100. Here are the usual parts of Sri Lanka’s day one story on a ground like Hagley Oval.
When they were here before, they didn’t have to bat first, but they were still out after 138 runs. The last time, they had players like Kumar Sangakkara on their team, but they still lost by 104 runs. Unless Sri Lanka pulls off a near-miracle in the second innings, which they do from time to time, these are game-changing messes. (Then New Zealand will go up to bat and put on half a million for six while smiling politely, which will only show how bad they were before.)
Then this happened. Four years after the last time they played a Test in New Zealand, where they were beaten by 423 runs at this same site, they had an amazing day of batting. Of defensive play that was mostly okay and technique that was pretty good. Had Sri Lanka’s batters done the work to figure out where their off stump was before they started a Test on foreign soil? Any Sri Lanka fan should feel a tear of pure pride just thinking about it.
Kusal Mendis, who may have been the best player in the XI, took the lead. The most important part of his 87 out of 83 was how he judged length on a surface that was a bit bumpy. When it was on a good length, he defended close to his body, almost always with soft hands, so that when the ball came in and took the edge, it bounced short of the slips. Most of the time, though, he defended inside the line, mostly using his bat to block balls that could hit him in front of the wickets or get past him to the wickets.
When New Zealand’s bowlers bowled fuller and tried hard to get an edge that could be caught, Mendis gave his all to his front-foot strokes, sometimes driving it with authority, other times sending it squirting off the face of the bat through backward point, and other times flicking it deliciously off his pads.
He got 50 runs off of 40 balls, but New Zealand’s bowlers didn’t have a great morning. 44 of those runs came from fours. He and Dimuth Karunaratne, who was just as steady but less aggressive against balls that could be hit, put together a 137-run partnership at the second wicket that was the key to Sri Lanka’s progress on day one. They would get out in consecutive overs, but when they did, they were often replaced by better batsmen.
Angelo Mathews waited for the shorter balls and scored 38 of his 47 runs through the leg side. He also hit a couple of fours off his pads when the ball was close to him. Dinesh Chandimal liked to hit the ball to the off side, and he did so six times. As Dhananjaya de Silva batted with Kasun Rajitha near the end of the day, he made boundaries whenever he could.
Their scoring areas were different, but almost all of Sri Lanka’s top seven batters covered the stumps, didn’t rush at balls until they were set, didn’t mind when deliveries beat their bats, and didn’t chase seaming balls outside their stumps. Even when bowled at (mostly by Tim Southee and Matt Henry), they didn’t give up, which is something they often do when the ball is turning.
Given Sri Lanka’s long tail and lack of experience in the field, which New Zealand can easily take advantage of, 305 for 6 is not a great first-day score. It is possible that New Zealand will win the match. But given the situation, Sri Lanka were good enough. And it’s not often that you can say that about Sri Lanka on the first day of a match in New Zealand.
India’s trust is rewarded by Bharat’s skill behind the stumps.
Sometimes almost everything that makes up a Test match is found in a single ball. One of those balls was the one that knocked Pat Cummins out of the game on the third morning in Delhi. It had the blunt precision of the Indian spinners, the deadly glide that made this pitch so hard to play on, and the sweep, a high-risk, high-reward shot so controversial that a thousand autopsies were written about it.
And there was one more thing. After the ball slipped under Cummins‘ bat, it hit the inside edge of the outside stump, bounced off the side of the middle stump and landed in KS Bharat’s gloves.
The ball didn’t spin sharply, but it didn’t go all the way with the arm either. After it was thrown, it straightened just a little. It also stayed low before bouncing off the stumps twice. Bharat had followed the ball all the way, even as Cummins took a wild swing, and he had collected it cleanly.
It didn’t matter because the ball was dead by the time he reached it, but he did a good job with his glove.
Later that day, when India had lost four wickets and were 27 runs away from their target, Bharat was moved up the order and scored a brilliant unbeaten 23 off 22 balls, including three perfectly timed fours to cover and a solid knock with a slog-swept six.
In his first two Test innings, Bharat had scored 8 and 6 in the first two games of this series. He must have felt much better after that start because he played on Sunday. Some watching from the outside might have even thought he was trying to save his career with that performance.
But India probably wouldn’t have seriously considered taking Bharat out of the game after Delhi, even if he had done nothing in the second innings. They probably know that anyone can score a number of low scores on difficult pitches, and they may have seen glimpses of Bharat’s counter-attacking potential during his brief stint with the Indian national team
It took a long time for these things to happen.
In May 2018, Indian senior team officials selected Bharat as the goalkeeper for the four-day tour and Rishabh Pant as the goalkeeper for the 50-over tour. The Indian senior team was also touring England that summer, so the A tour was a shadow tour. At the time, officials felt that Bharat was India’s best pure goalkeeper and Pant was an exciting batsman whose glovework needed work.
When Wriddhiman Saha got injured and could not join the England tour, India included Pant in its Test team in place of Bharat. The genius is going in his own direction.
But Bharat remained an important player in India’s second team. Since the beginning of 2018, he has played 19 first-class matches for the India A team, which is more than any other player except Abhimanyu Easwaran, who bats first. In those India A matches, he has scored 971 runs at a rate of 48.55, including three hundreds.
Last year, when India took Saha out of its test team, Bharat took his place. So it made sense that Bharat made his debut when Pant was injured. The Indian team management may have been tempted by Ishan Kishan’s competing claims, but they chose Bharat at the start of this Border-Gavaskar series.
At the start of the 2019-20 home season, India dropped Pant from the Test programme XI and brought back Saha for a series against South Africa. Virat Kohli described Saha as the best goalkeeper in the world and they felt his good glove work was important on India’s winding tracks. They felt that Pant still needed to work on his goalkeeping. Pant worked on it and became a world-class goalkeeper when India played England in early 2021. Until then, however, Saha was still the first choice for home games.
At the start of this series between India and Australia, the same idea was in play. India appreciates how good Bharat is with the bat, but they know he is their best goalkeeper when Pant is not around.