Marizanne Kapp prepares to lead from front as South Africa enter new era

Laura Wolvaardt (left) batting with Marizanne Kapp for South Africa
Laura Wolvaardt (left) will lead South Africa in their upcoming series against Pakistan and New Zealand

The past year has been quite the emotional rollercoaster for women's cricket in South Africa.

Controversies around fitness requirements shrouded the retirements of established stars in Lizelle Lee and captain Dane van Niekerk.

Mignon du Preez and most recently Shabnim Ismail added to the list of international retirements, breaking a core of players that built the backbone of their side for more than a decade.

And yet amid the chaos, they reached their first World Cup final, a historic occasion on their home turf despite eventual defeat by Australia.

Throughout it all, talismanic all-rounder Marizanne Kapp has stood firm, and remains motivated to guide the young team through its transition.

"The past year has been really hard," 33-year-old Kapp told BBC Sport.

"We started this journey together, and it did make the World Cup a bit harder for me personally because those players were the ones that built us up over 14 years to get to a place where we could reach a World Cup final.

"I learned to love them as players and as friends."

Kapp made her South Africa debut in 2009 and has established herself as one of the world's best all-rounders, starring in franchise cricket as well as on the international stage.

Fiery fast bowler Ismail was by her side in the World Cup final but South Africa's next assignment, a tour to Pakistan, which starts on Friday, will be her first without those closest team-mates.

"My heart is still with South Africa," Kapp said when asked about her desire to continue playing international cricket with the increasing opportunities in franchise leagues.

"I want to play as much as I can and help the younger players as much as I can in my last few years. We have put so much hard work in and I do not want to see this team take steps back.

"I feel like I have to be there and it might be a tough couple of months or years, after losing so many international caps, but I want to make sure we get it right.

"We have to stay a team that competes at World Cups, we don't just turn up."

The tour will also see South Africa play under yet another captain in Laura Wolvaardt, after Sune Luus - who led them to the World Cup final - stood down earlier this month.

'We need to close the gap'

Left to right: Dane van Niekerk, Shabnim Ismail and Marizanne Kapp celebrate winning The Hundred with Oval Invincibles
Kapp would like to see South Africa players gain more experience in competitions like The Hundred

"We need to open those doors and give our women's cricket the best chance it could possibly have to keep up with Australia, England and India," said Luus after the final.

Cricket South Africa has taken steps to ensure that the women's game continues to develop by announcing equal match fees for its men's and women's teams, as well as launching a six-team professional domestic system which will give contracts to 11 players each.

Kapp says that building a stronger domestic set-up will be the key to South Africa being able to compete with England and Australia, who are leading the way, and India, who have been boosted by its franchise competition, the Women's Premier League.

"Things are changing but we have got to close that gap as quickly as possible," she said.

"We don't have leagues like The Hundred or the Women's Big Bash yet, so we are going to fall behind a bit.

"Getting as many of our players as possible in these leagues to help them get used to the crowd, the pressure, working with other coaches - that will play a big part in closing it."

All-rounders Chloe Tryon and Nadine de Klerk were other South Africa players involved in this year's Hundred, the latter a replacement for Van Niekerk at the Oval Invincibles after she fractured her thumb.

And Kapp said De Klerk's experience is a prime example of how franchise exposure can benefit her international side.

"She spoke to me afterwards about how amazing the crowd was," said Kapp.

"We have seen how the big players who get to play in these leagues are the ones that pull away in international cricket.

"Youngsters in England, Australia and India come into the international game and are immediately used to playing in front of crowds and under pressure.

"At the World Cup, it was amazing but some of our girls were so nervous because they weren't used to it. So it would definitely be a good thing for us to get more South African players in these leagues."

'Van Niekerk has her best cricket still in her'

Kapp and Van Niekerk married in 2018 and the former admits she does try to "convince" the latter "every now and then to come back" to international cricket.

Van Niekerk retired from South Africa duty after being left out of their World Cup squad for failing to meet the required time over a 5km run in a fitness assessment.

"Dane's story is heartbreaking. She is one of the best cricketers that CSA has ever produced," said Kapp.

"She's only 30 and she has her best cricket still in her.

"Ultimately, Dane never retired because of the fitness thing. It was everything around it, the injuries, the way it all transpired. I think it just took so much out of her that she had nothing left to give.

"She was deeply hurt but she is over it now and trying to move on.

"I'm just happy to see her out on the park again because women's cricket is in a better place when she is playing."

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