Laura Wolvaardt: Record-setting South African set for second Women's World Cup bid

By Mo AllieBBC Sport Africa, South Africa
Laura Wolvaardt in action for South Africa
Laura Wolvaard averages 44.32 in Women's One-Day Internationals
ICC Women's World Cup
Dates: 4 March - 3 April Host country: New Zealand
Coverage: Test Match Special commentary on BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website on 20 matches, plus live text commentary with in-play clips on selected matches on the BBC Sport website and app
Tournament schedule

Laura Wolvaardt, a teenage prodigy, has always been ahead of the pack and now the batter is looking to create more history with South Africa Women.

At the age of 22 she is the second-youngest member of a Proteas squad that is aiming to become the first senior national team from the country to win a cricket World Cup.

Despite her age Wolvaardt is also one of the more experienced members of the side. The opener is now in her seventh year of international cricket after making her debut as a 16-year-old against England in February 2016 and has been setting records ever since.

"It is a little bit weird but I think I'm quite lucky to be in a position to be this young and to have that much game-time under my belt already," Wolvaardt told BBC Sport Africa from the team's Women's World Cup base in Christchurch, New Zealand.

"A lot of 22-year-olds are just starting out on their international careers. I think I'm in a very fortunate position that I was able to start playing for South Africa at the age of 16 and to gain as much experience and knowledge as I have done in the past couple of years.

"Hopefully I can use that to my advantage and to put up some good scores at this World Cup."

Despite her tender age, Wolvaardt will be a key player when South Africa begin their group-stage campaign against Bangladesh in Dunedin on Saturday (22:00 GMT on Friday).

Wolvaardt was only 13 when she was named her country's Under-19 Women's Cricketer of the Year in 2013, and since then she has kept the statisticians busy with her regular record-breaking feats.

In August 2016, in just her seventh one-day international, she became the youngest centurion for South Africa - male or female - when she made a polished 105 against Ireland.

Aged 17 at the time, was 233 days younger than the previous South African record-holder, Johmari Logtenberg, and a full two years younger than Graeme Pollock, one of the game's all-time greats.

In early 2018, aged 18, she became the youngest woman to pass the 1,000-run mark in ODIs and last March she became the youngest South African to score 2,000 runs in the format.

In doing so, at the age of 21 years and 315 days, she comfortably beat the record previously held by star men's batter Quinton de Kock who was aged 23 years and 48 days. She also left legends like Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers in her wake.

Taking a risk to pursue a cricket career

A top student who achieved distinctions in all seven her subjects in her school-leaving year, Wolvaardt may not have been as prominent in the cricketing record books had she continued her studies as a medical student at Stellenbosch University, just outside Cape Town.

She actually attended classes for a month in 2019 before taking the fork-in-the-road decision to pursue a career as a professional cricketer.

"When I saw the academic schedule I realized that my cricket commitments were not going to line up at all," she said.

"So I spoke to the head of department and the university gave me a two-year deferment of my studies. The plan was to come back but at that point the cricket was going really well."

The growth of the Big Bash League (BBL) in Australia and the introduction of The Hundred competition in England last year have provided lucrative new opportunities for women cricketers. So too has the phenomenal growth of the women's international game.

All this diminished the risk taken by Wolvaardt to give up her studies and pursue her passion for cricket.

She joined the Brisbane Heat in the BBL in 2017, moving to the Adelaide Strikers last year, while she signed with the Northern Superchargers in The Hundred last season.

Laura Wolvaardt in action for Northern Superchargers
Wolvaardt scored 181 runs in seven outings for Northern Superchargers in last year's inaugural Women's Hundred

"It was a bit of a risk [leaving university] - that's what made the decision so hard because I guess anything can happen," she said.

"I could have a bad season and not play much cricket at all. I must say I'm very fortunate with how my career has played out so far, that I get to play in the leagues in different parts of the world and get to be very busy.

"If it were the other way around, I think I'd be a bit upset about just sitting at home and not studying to be a doctor."

Not that she's entirely let her books gather dust. She's doing a BSc in Life Sciences through the University of South Africa, a distance-learning institution.

Her studies have, in fact, proven to be a perfect antidote to counter the boredom and claustrophobia that has had such a major impact on the mental health of many elite sportsmen and women who have had to cope with living in bio-secure bubbles during competition since the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020.

"Because my studies are online I can take my books with me on the tours, which is convenient," she says with a measure of satisfaction.

The prospect of winning the country's first senior World Cup is an appealing one for Wolvaardt. It's an achievement she believes will have reverberations way beyond the team.

"I think it would be massive for women's cricket as a whole in South Africa. And hopefully it can inspire a lot of young girls back at home to take up the sport. So we're really trying to try to win it for something greater than ourselves."

Going into the tournament as the world's second-ranked ODI team following five consecutive series victories and having batters Lizelle Lee and Wolvaardt and bowlers Shabnim Ismail, Ayabonga Khaka and Marizanne Kapp all featuring in the top 10 of their respective ICC ODI rankings, the Proteas are well placed to progress beyond the semi-finals, where they faltered in 2000 and 2017.