The Ricky Ponting pull. The MS Dhoni helicopter. The Sir Alastair Cook nudge off the hips through mid-wicket for one. Some shots are so synonymous with particular batters that all other iterations are simply derivatives. This is the zenith of the art form. The way it was meant to be played.
By the end of the summer we may add one more to the list: The Laura Wolvaardt cover drive.
It’s a tough burden to place on a 23-year-old with only six years under her belt as an international cricketer, but the Proteas top-order dasher might be the torchbearer of the game’s most revered stroke.
Then again, just look at the way she unfurls her drive like the cascading rivulets of a silk scarf caught in the breeze. Her front foot striding assuredly towards the ball. Her head and shoulders following as they should. Her left knee bent, her elbows high, her bat cutting the air like a samurai’s blade.
There are many examples of her fierce grace but the best came in the T20 World Cup semi-final against Australia in 2020. With South Africa needing 38 from 21 balls, Nicola Carey landed one in line with the leg stump. Giving herself room, Wolvaardt got inside the ball and lifted it up and over extra cover. On the ICC’s YouTube page, the sport’s governing body titled the below video: “Is it possible to marry a cricket shot?”
“That was the best innings I’ve seen from her,” says her Proteas coach, Hilton Moreeng, who has been in charge of the side since 2012. Though the Proteas lost that rain-affected match by five runs on the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method, it enhanced the reputation of a team still in the midst of what is considered a golden generation. Wolvaardt’s unbeaten 41 from 27 balls was the standout performance.
Having represented Western Province’s under-19 team when she was 13, Wolvaardt seemed destined for the elite level from an early age. That is, if she wanted to pursue a career in cricket. She achieved seven distinctions in her final year in high school and was accepted into Stellenbosch University’s medical school. After four months of balancing her cricket with her studies, she dedicated her life to becoming the world’s best batter.
“That’s my goal,” she says confidently. “I want to be the number one batter in the world. I want to win tournaments for South Africa. I sometimes put too much pressure on myself but I think it’s important to push yourself.”
Her white ball record has been impressive so far. She is a regular feature on the global franchise circuit and impressed in The Hundred last year for the Northern Superchargers. She averages 45.35 in her ODI career and 43.62 in T20 internationals since January 2020. However, she believes that true greats are judged on their prowess against the red ball, calling it the “ultimate challenge”.
“[Test cricket] is a format that will suit her really well,” says the team’s regular captain, Dane van Niekerk, who will miss the four-day match in Taunton against England on Monday as she recovers from an ankle fracture. “Her potential is limitless. She’ll go down as one of the best women cricketers of all time.”
But this is mostly speculation. Before last week she hadn’t played a competitive match with a red ball since she was 19 and that came in a single-day club game in Cape Town. You’d never have guessed it. On Tuesday she scored an unbeaten 101 against an England ‘A’ side which was strengthened by three England-capped players; the all-rounder Georgia Elwiss and spinners Sarah Glenn and Mady Villiers.
Wolvaardt hit 13 fours across 210 minutes opening the batting at the Arundel Castle Ground in Sussex. Though no highlights or detailed reports can be found of that tune-up knock, one can confidently assume a sizeable portion of those boundaries were blitzed through the off-side.
“She has to have the best cover drive in the world,” van Niekerk says. Moreeng concurs but is aware that a slight recalibration is required against a new Dukes ball: “The biggest thing is identifying when and how early in her innings she can use [her cover drive]. With that extra movement, she may have to be watchful early on.”
Wolvaardt is fully aware of the challenge: “It’s something I’ve been thinking about these last few weeks,” she says. “The cover drive is my favourite shot and I bring it out often. I’ll probably need to hold it back a little and I can’t go out all guns blazing. [England] will definitely look to get me out playing it. I’ve identified areas on the pitch where I’ll look to leave if the ball lands there. But I won’t put it away completely. Hopefully I get in and knock a few through the covers.”
Even the most ardent England fan would share this sentiment. Certain shots performed by certain cricketers transcend allegiances and emit audible gasps from zealots and neutrals alike. The Laura Wolvaardt cover drive is one of them.