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Marizanne Kapp: Lizelle Lee's retirement has been 'mentally tough' for South Africa

Allrounder admits to squad struggles in absence of seniors, including wife van Niekerk

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Marizanne Kapp drives through the covers during her 73  •  Getty Images

Marizanne Kapp drives through the covers during her 73  •  Getty Images

Lizelle Lee's shock retirement has left South Africa reeling in England and the onus is on the senior players to step up. That's how allrounder Marizanne Kapp sees the situation after South Africa lost the one-day series with a game to spare and played well beneath their usual standards in the first two matches, especially as a batting unit.
South Africa were bowled out for under 225 in each of the two matches, and only Chloe Tryon (88 in the first ODI), Laura Wolvaardt (58 in the second match) and Kapp (73, also in the second ODI) have had scores of significance. Lee, who had been partnering Wolvaardt at the top of the order before her retirement, may have added her name to that list. But her abrupt decision to step away from the international game last week means South Africa have been left without 100 ODI caps and almost a decade-worth of experience, and her absence is affecting them.
"It's definitely tough and not something that I expected," Kapp said, after being asked how she was coping without Lee. "With Lizelle being one of my best friends, I have been struggling. Mentally, I have not been in the best space the last week or so, especially with Lizelle's retirement."
Lee gave no specific reasons for walking away apart from being "ready for the next phase of my career," which will include playing franchise T20 cricket. She also recently became a parent and her partner, Tanja Cronje and new baby have been traveling with her in the UK. Members of the South African squad have also not provided many clues about Lee's decision with vice-captain Tryon only referring to her not being there and the team having to "get on with it", a mantra Kapp has also adopted. "It's going to take a lot more from the seniors going forward," she said. "We are going to have to assist the juniors when it gets tough."
Kapp walked the talk in the second ODI after she shrugged off an indifferent performance with the ball (0 for 60 in nine overs) to show some defiance in the chase - albeit too little, too late. South Africa were 107 for 3 in the 20th over when Kapp came in to bat and lost 5 for 79 before she was dismissed, but she wanted to show her team-mates that a target of over 300 was not beyond them, even though it has never been done in women's cricket before.
"When people see a score of 330 they get a fright and that was the thing I was afraid of when we walked off the field - that some of the youngsters may think 'we'll never chase down those runs'. It's just about backing yourself and for the seniors to pick up their hands," she said, also emphasising her own role in the chase. "That's the fun part of being an allrounder. I can always come back with the bat."
But Kapp did all of that against what she's called one of the toughest periods of her career. Apart from Lee's retirement, her wife Dane van Niekerk was today confirmed as being out of contention for the Commonwealth Games after failing to recover sufficiently from an ankle injury sustained in January. Without both Lee and van Niekerk, Kapp has found herself a little lonelier than usual, on and off the field, after traveling from the Fairbreak tournament to India and on to the UK, with her fourth bout of Covid-19 inbetween.
"It's obviously not ideal not to have Dane in the Commonwealth Games squad and not to have Lizelle. But that's why we are a team. We have to give the youngsters opportunities to see what they can do," she said. "We are so used to playing and traveling for such a long time that it's nothing new to us. It shouldn't be an excuse but for me personally, it gets to you: being away from home, being alone, not being with family. It is tough, but we chose this sport. We knew it was going to be tough. We just have to be strong, work as a team and support each other. It's going to take a push from the seniors."
Through all of it, Kapp has had the backing of South Africa's support staff as she bears her responsibilities, which she aims to keep doing through to the end of the tour. "I'm human and I've wanted to cry a few times on the field in the last two games but our team doctor has been absolutely brilliant," Kapp said. "She assisted me and she has been there for me throughout this period. Mentally, it's been tough. You have to pull yourself back together and get the job done. I can't let the youngsters down. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and be strong."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent