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Wolvaardt overcomes self-doubt to lead her country

Opening batter asked herself: "Am I ready for this?"

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
The first thought Laura Wolvaardt had when the national captaincy was offered to her was doubt.
"Am I ready for this? Do I know enough about my own game to be telling other people what to do?", she told ESPNcricinfo's Powerplay podcast.
At the time, Wolvaardt had played 80 ODIs - and filled in as skipper in two of them in India in 2021 - and 167 T20Is. Though only 24 years old, her international career was into its seventh year and she was among South Africa's top five leading run-scorers in both white-ball formats. So why the hesitation?
"I was being thrown in the deep end and having to learn bowling plans whereas before I was just a batter and could focus on myself," she said.
As a student of the game, Wolvaardt could have given herself a little more credit. Since taking over, Wolvaardt has led South Africa to seven wins in 12 ODIs, including series wins over Pakistan, New Zealand and Bangladesh and a first-ever victory over Australia. They sit second on the women's championship, and are in a strong position to secure automatic qualification for the 2025 World Cup. Their shorter format form has not been quite as strong and they've only won four out of 10 T20Is (with two lost to rain) but that also includes a historic win over Australia.
More importantly, the early evidence of her tenure suggests that not only has she got the hang of managing a team in the field but she's seen the effects it could have on her own game as well. "I've been thinking about the game in different ways, thinking about conditions, thinking about opposition. In the long run it will help my batting. It has made me focus a bit less on myself and results," she said.
Any concerns she had about whether dividing her attention would subtract her value to the team was dismissed when she scored an unbeaten 124 as South Africa chased 254 to complete a series win over New Zealand. Since then, she scored a second match-winning century against Bangladesh and two fifties as captain.
In T20s, Wolvaardt has scored 474 runs from 12 T20Is at an average of 59.23 - a massive improvement on her overall average of 30.89 - and a strike rate of 125.06. That includes her first T20I century, recorded just last week against Sri Lanka.
The number that will catch everyone's eyes there is the strike rate, which has picked up from 113.72 and her confidence in clearing the boundary has increased as she's put more work into developing the skill to do so consistently.
"I had to hit the gym a bit and build a bit of a strength base," she said. "I was a bit skinny and lanky when I first started. And then, it was just figuring out how power hitting worked for me.
"When I first started, I lost all my shapes when I tried to hit too hard and to do it like other power hitters do it. I still need to keep shapes and hit good cricket shots and maybe change my timing or do it a bit earlier. It's not always easy to do. I still try and whack it way too hard and lose all my shapes."
Wolvaardt models herself on Kane Williamson or "someone like that who is not known for slogging or whacking but can still put up some decent scores in T20 cricket," like "Virat Kohli," because "there's always so much to learn from cricketers around the world."
And outside of the game too.
Though Wolvaardt gave up her place at medical school when she realised she would become an international regular, she has kept a hand in the game by studying for a Bachelor of Science in Life Sciences while playing. By mid-year, she should have her degree, which she admitted has been "more of a hassle than a joy" to complete but is part of a Plan B. "The purpose was to get credits if I go back to medicine some day," she said.
But is that really a possibility? "It's looking less and less likely that I am going to be 35 and wanting to study for six more years."
By then, Wolvaardt could have played another 11 years of cricket, across international and franchise leagues, and if there is one thing she hopes to achieve, it's being part of a South African side that finally wins a World Cup. Having reached semi-finals and even a final before, she does not think they are that far away.
"We have the talent within our group. We've proved that with beating some of the best teams in the world. But we need a bit more consistency. We've had brilliant games and then games where we don't play as well as we could have. We need to work hard on a lot of things to hopefully get those things consistent in future so we are beating big teams all the time."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket