July 5, 2017

Medicine or cricket - Wolvaardt waits to choose

The young South African opener has always played the game for fun. But maybe now things might get serious

"I would hate coming in at No. 3, because you can possibly sit there until the 40th over and not a get a chance to bat. I really like batting and I want the most overs possible to bat" © IDI/Getty Images

Laura Wolvaardt cannot wait to face Anya Shrubsole again. After Shrubsole dismissed her cheaply twice in three matches in Wolvaardt's first series, taking on the England swing bowler 18 months later will serve as a yardstick.

"I made my debut against England," Wolvaardt said. "I was still very young and very inexperienced then, so that's probably my toughest challenge so far. Shrusbole swung the ball a lot. I am looking forward to the next game because it will be a good challenge to see if I have changed in the last year or whether I've improved."

But at 18, Wolvaardt, playing her first World Cup, faces a much tougher prospect than Shrubsole. A final-year student, she is looking at further studies, and will at some point need to make a difficult decision regarding her cricket career.

"I have applied for medicine and I haven't heard back from the universities yet. This [cricket] was always just my hobby, just for fun. School has always been my thing and I always study very hard.

"I just did this on the side and now it's becoming a bit more serious, so I've had rethink a few things. I have some big decisions to make later this year. Maybe once I get in [to university], I can take a gap year or try and split it over more years, or maybe if cricket really goes well, then I can do that rather. It's depending on how well this all goes."

"I have applied for medicine and I haven't heard back from the universities yet. This [cricket] was always just my hobby, just for fun. School has always been my thing and I always study very hard"

So far, very well. After 20 ODIs, Wolvaardt has a higher average than any other South African batsman, with two centuries and four fifties to her name. She has a reputation of being an aggressive batsman, a clean ball-striker and a fast scorer, and admits that when it comes to time at the crease, she is selfish. "I would hate coming in at No. 3, because you can possibly sit there until the 40th over and not a get a chance to bat," she said. "I really like batting and I want the most overs possible to bat."

In the current South African set-up, she may not always have that choice. The team is blessed with at least three other opening options and Wolvaardt knows there is competition for the spot.

"Andrie Steyn can open, Lizelle Lee, obviously [Wolvaardt's current opening partner], and Suné Luus, so it's difficult for selectors, but I am trying to my best to keep it," Wolvaardt said. "In a tournament like this you need your best XI on the field. If I don't play well, there's always someone that can replace me. There's pressure, you need to perform. We need to win."

South Africa won their first two matches, followed by a washout against New Zealand, but bigger challenges are still to come. England, India and Australia, all ranked higher than them, but South Africa have already shown they can punch above their weight. Beating West Indies after bowling them out for 48 will "give us great confidence", Wolvaardt said.

Similarly, she sees herself as having greater self-belief than she did 18 months ago. "Technically I've not really made any changes, but mentally I am a lot more confident now. I've played more international games."

In that time, she has enjoyed the support of some of the senior players in the side, like Mignon du Preez, Dane van Niekerk and Marizanne Kapp.

"It's great having them in the side. Any questions you have, any time, they can always answer it. If you are asking about conditions, they've played everywhere, know everything and know all of the opposition," a clearly star-struck Wolvaardt said. "It's great to have that kind of knowledge in the change room."

Knowledge has always been Wolvaardt's go-to. She is an A student and the head-girl of her school, Parklands College. Sport was "just for fun" from when she started at the age of five, playing with boys. But she climbed up the ranks quickly, playing Under-19 provincial cricket at the age of 11 and senior provincial cricket from 15. Along the way she learnt that "at around 16 or 17, the boys get a lot quicker, but the girls can still swing the ball as much", that "spin is an area of my game I need to work on" and that a professional career does not necessarily have to involve a degree and a white coat.

Wolvaardt's parents, in the UK to watch the World Cup, have "always been super supportive and driven me to everything and are totally open-minded to try this out as a career." But she still can't quite believe it is an option. "I just did this for fun and now I am here in England for the World Cup." Maybe when she comes to bat against England again, she will discover how real it gets.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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