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‘We’re not in the Olympics’ – Dane van Niekerk opens up on fitness, health, and Cricket South Africa struggles

by Wisden Staff 6 minute read

Former South Africa captain Dane van Niekerk had missed the 2023 T20 Women’s World Cup squad due to “fitness issues”. She has now opened up about Cricket South Africa’s attitude towards her in the lead-up to the event and the factors that led to her eventual retirement.

Van Niekerk was left out after she missed the two-kilometre fitness benchmark by 18 seconds. Despite reportedly clocking her personal best, she was unable to meet the minimum requirement of 9 minutes 30 seconds.

Now 29, van Niekerk last played for South Africa in 2021 after a broken ankle, which also forced her to miss the 2022 World Cup and the Commonwealth Games. However, she was desperate to make a return for the T20 World Cup at home. Being left out left her “absolutely broken.”


She has now opened up about the incident on the Test Match Special Podcast, saying she had struggled with the two-kilometre test in the past as well but was never dropped from the national team despite her inability to meet the criteria.

“It was a weird thing because I absolutely failed the first test. I almost walked the 2km but that wasn’t the first time with the 2km, and the management knew that I had an absolute block when it came to it. Leading into it, because there was a tri-series [featuring India and West Indies], I knew I put myself in jeopardy there but still proud of the weight I lost, the skinfold percentage that I had in five years.

“Percentage-wise I was very proud of what I had achieved, but running was a prerequisite, and I understood but it wasn’t the first time [I failed the test].

“We never had the 2km back in the day, but I was never the fittest, that I can promise you. So maybe it’s not making the running, but I certainly got the highest percentage I had in four years, and I’ve played a World Cup since, so I think that was the most disappointing thing for me was I was picked previously because I was good in cricket.

“I don’t know how that went out of the window, to be honest. But I’ve never been an advocate of saying that you shouldn’t be fit to play for your country, because I certainly never said that. I never fought with anyone leading up to anything but I also believe that we’re not in the Olympics.

“We need to win games of cricket and I believe in myself as a cricketer, a tactician, a captain and I feel that also should carry some weight. It’s not that I came to a fitness test – but my skinfold was higher before, and my running was worse. Everything was actually better, so I did not sit on my a** and do nothing.”

Van Niekerk goes on to explain in detail the events leading up to her omission. “I was omitted from the tri-series, which I never fought against. I had some conversations with the powers-to-be and tried to give them common sense. ‘You are leaving me out. I haven’t played any competitive cricket and I need this competitive cricket to play, so if I’m in the plans, and if I need the confidence to get to the 9:30 mark, then I need to play.’

“But I also don’t expect a free pass. But, so many things transpired, where I got called into a meeting and my captaincy was stripped from me, a week-two weeks before my final test.”

Van Niekerk had led South Africa since 2016. On being prodded on Sune Luus being appointed captain, she says, “It’s a good one. The powers-to-be told me that they realised there might be a chance that I’m not going to make the team, so they might just take it now and the team [for the tri-series and the T20 World Cup] can stay the same.

“That hurt, because I’m literally training alone. I’m waking up, training, running, doing everything I can to be here and you saying that – where’s the faith? So you’re telling me that you don’t have confidence in me doing the 9.30.

“Leading into the three weeks prior to the World Cup, the wheels of the wagon just fell off. The worst thing for me is to be sitting there in the meeting, begging to be a net bowler for my team. I think that hurt me the most because I was told there’s no facility for me to train in because there’s a tri-series. I looked at them and was like…

“I didn’t have a room in the hotel. I stayed with my wife [Marizanne Kapp]. I had to drive home to get a car. I get it, I’m not part of the tour, but I’m still a South African player, and at the time, I was still appointed captain. It was bizarre.

“I understand you are in the middle of a series so you cannot bowl to me when there are batters that need to train, but I can bowl to my teammates. I can be there with my team and not be further alienated from my teammates. The fielding coach could have also thrown the ball at me. I ended up training with a school, and the head there came and threw balls at me for an hour. It was just like, ‘How can you not help me?’ It just made no sense.”

Van Niekerk went on to announce her retirement in March, after saying she felt underappreciated for her efforts: “I couldn’t put my body through what I had. It was unhealthy. I stopped eating, I was on a six-week programme. I spent a lot of time at home, I didn’t see my wife. My life has always been cricket, I’ve been doing it for 14 years and when it gets taken away from you…

“I just couldn’t do it for a company that does not appreciate or value it. I don’t want you to come to kiss my a**, sorry for being blunt. Everybody has their day, but surely what I’ve given and done and what I’ve put my body through for the last 14 years.

“I had some funny conversations with CSA. I just realised I’m done. I’ve always been Dane, never been the fastest runner nor the fittest South African cricketer. That’s never been me, and it’s not being arrogant, it’s just literally me. I’ve hated running my whole life, I don’t like running. I will do it but I’ve never let my team down when it comes to winning a game for my country. My fitness was never the reason why I couldn’t take a game through.

“No matter how exhausted I was, that pride to win games for my country, you forget about being tired. I gave everything and I will say that with pride. When we sat for the meeting, they told me ‘Dane you are not picked for the World Cup’, I’m heartbroken but I packed my bags with pride.”

Van Niekerk was also forthright in admitting that seeing South Africa reach the first ever final of a senior World Cup – men’s or women’s – was ‘bittersweet’ for her: “I wanted to be there. I wanted South Africa to win but I’m not saying that I was very conflicted because I knew that if the team did well, which I expected because it’s a team that I’ve helped grow for many years but I knew that if something good came of this World Cup, which I hoped for the players that I absolutely loved in that team, everything that transpired would get pushed under the rug. It won’t be asked.

“It was a bittersweet moment because I also wanted to be there. That’s why I broke my body. I wanted the band to sing the national anthem. I wanted to experience that and see players experience that – I was happy for them – but I did not work 14 years not to be here. I’m happy for what happened because the country needed that but it just through a rug over what transpired.”

Van Niekerk has since taken part in the inaugural Women’s Premier League, where she was bought by Royal Challengers Bangalore, though she did not play a game. She was also a part of the commentary team for the 2023 Women’s T20 World Cup, and is currently playing in the Fairbreak Invitational T20.


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