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Who Does it Best?

The cover drive: Laura Wolvaardt

It's a shot that will make you go weak in your knees and then propose marriage to it

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Laura Wolvaardt has used her solid foundation in the game to become an aggressive T20 batter  •  Getty Images

Laura Wolvaardt has used her solid foundation in the game to become an aggressive T20 batter  •  Getty Images

In February 2021, the ICC put out a poll on Twitter asking cricket fans to vote for the best cover drive in the game. Their nominees were Kane Williamson, Virat Kohli, Babar Azam and Joe Root (Babar won with a 0.1% lead over Kohli, in case you were wondering) but Australia's Megan Schutt had another candidate: Laura Wolvaardt, and she posted a photo of the South Africa batter in full flow.
In it, Wolvaardt's back knee was bent and she leaned forward into the shot, her head over her hips to distribute the weight evenly, her top elbow high as she held the pose. The ball was out of sight, but it's fair to assume it had found its way across or over a fence somewhere. If there was an award for the most aesthetically pleasing finish to a cricket shot, Wolvaardt would win that too.
Her cover drive is classical in its approach and execution, and it was nurtured by her childhood coach Laurie Ward, who focused on the basics: getting the front foot forward enough, rolling the wrists, the angle of the bat (downward, of course), and timing. In an interview during the WBBL last season, Wolvaardt explained that Ward believed getting the cover drive right would lay the foundation for her to become a successful opening batter. "Something I focused on quite a bit is to get the cover drive right and to get my drives and my base and everything as an opening batter. A lot of bowlers bowl outside off stump, so the cover drive is always important." And in Wolvaardt's case, it's an art form too.
In fairness to the ICC, the governing body is as in love with Wolvaardt's cover drive as anyone else. Eleven months before the tweet that crowned Babar, the ICC posted a YouTube video titled: Is it possible to marry a cricket shot? featuring Wolvaardt's cover drive from the 2020 T20 World Cup semi-final. Facing Nicola Carey's medium pace, Wolvaardt moved outside leg stump to make space to drive what would have been a leg-stump wide through the covers for four. It was a cover drive but not as you know it. Wolvaardt demonstrated a degree of innovation that has allowed her to transform a traditional shot into a T20 weapon.
"I think it was difficult for me to kind of find the balance to still play good cricket shots and score runs in T20 cricket. I'm slowly starting to get that you can still play proper cricket shots and score a lot of runs," she told Sporting News during the last WBBL.
She is the fastest South African woman to 1000 and 2000 ODI runs and her T20 game is catching up, largely thanks to the cover drive. Former South Africa women's assistant coach Salieg Nackerdien, who worked with Wolvaardt at Western Province, has watched her develop the cover drive into a more aggressive stroke. "What was pleasing to see was how quickly she learned," he says.
So while Smriti Mandhana has called Mithali Raj's cover drive the best in the world and the India captain would justifiably feel unlucky to miss out on this title, as would Heather Knight, Suzie Bates and Mandhana herself, Wolvaardt's textbook technique, clean execution and stellar stats make her a worthy winner.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent