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When hearing the name Mignon du Preez, the average person on the street can be forgiven for not knowing who that is, but the South Africa women's captain, 'Minx' as she is known to friends, is determined to change that.
Du Preez doesn't want personal fame, to be clear, but rather that the cricket fans who follow her male counterparts also learn the names Dane van Niekerk and Marizanne Kapp, alongside AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla.
Cricket365 had a lengthy, in-depth chat with the 25-year-old skipper about her cricketing start, her career so far, and how the women's game in South Africa is getting more professional, slowly but surely.
You famously made a double century when you were 12…
Yes. It was a provincial under 13 girls competition. I played for Gauteng North, against Gauteng.
Did you play with or against boys at that age, at school or at a club?
I started at the age of four with boys, I played mini cricket with them, up until grade seven (age 12/13). When I reached high school my parents decided it would be better to play girls' cricket. I was fortunate that my high school had a girls team. They still have a high school cricket league there, but I think it's only about six teams.
How does the SA domestic structure work? It's tough to find information on that. Is it a full season, or more condensed?
The season runs from about August to March the next year. As of this year they've changed things to a Pool A and Pool B, strength versus strength. In the past they divided it up into regions, like Highveld and Coastal, but it wasn't strong enough like that, we didn't get enough competitive cricket. So as of this year, in Pool A there are six teams and the rest are in pool B, and then over the period of time we play each other twice. One 50-over and one T20. And then there are semi-finals and finals.
Is your team, Northerns (based in Pretoria), in Pool A?
Yes, luckily! We lost in the finals to Western Province (Cape Town), but we had a very good week. I scored two hundreds, and two fifties.
Is this the process the selectors look at for the national side?
Yes. From there, they announce a group of 48 players, I think, and then those girls get invited to national training camps where we do skills work and fitness assessments. From there, the three selectors and the head coach look at all the aspects, like where we're going on a tour, and what the best composition of the team would be.
With the season going from August to March, what happens the rest of the year? Are you paid, like England and Australia's women?
Two years ago we started with the contract system. I won't say it's fully professional yet, we earn a salary per month but it's not enough to only play cricket. We still have to study or do another job, like coaching. But it's a good start, I think we're heading in the right direction. As of last year we had 14 girls contracted, six of them 'A' contracts (including Du Preez).
Do you have another job?
I've completed my honours degree in marketing but I've been struggling to find job opportunities that can accommodate my cricket. I've been fortunate to stay with my parents but I'm getting married at the end of the year so my expenses are definitely going up! Hopefully I'll find something that can supplement my income. In the near future I'd like to look into coaching, maybe an academy. But that's not set in stone.
You made your international debut at 17. How has the set-up changed over the years?
It has really become a lot more professional. When I started in 2007, we maybe had one tour a year and it was usually against 'lower' competition. You always get your main contenders, Australia and England, and they're up there. And then you got Pakistan, Sri Lanka, us, so the bottom half of the top eight. In those days we only got the chance to play the bottom sides. Recently the ICC introduced a competition where all top eight teams have to play each other over a three-year period. Then at the end of 2016, the teams in the top four automatically qualify for the World Cup in England in 2017. The others then have to play a qualifier. So that's opened up a lot of opportunity for us to play against the stronger sides on a more regular basis.
Women's cricket is not where we want it yet, but it's moving in the right direction. Globally there's talk about a women's Big Bash, and a womens' ICL (International Cricket League) so those initiatives are exciting and should give us more chances to play competitive cricket.
South Africa's team has played one Test since 2007, against India last year. Are there plans for more such games? Why are there so few?
Not that I know of… but we hope that it's something that will become more regular. At the moment it's only Australia and England that play regularly, in their Ashes every year. It's a different ball game. It was an eye opener for us last year. It's a lovely format of the game and we hope to get more of them.
How did you enjoy that Test? You made a century so you must have enjoyed the batting, at least?
It was definitely a challenge. It's not something we're used to, we don't get to play for that long very often. The batting part was definitely more fun than standing in the field for 100 overs! But the more you do it, the better you become, so I hope we get the opportunity to play Tests more often. It's where, I feel, you get to learn the most about your own game. It's a different thought process, how you structure your innings, almost everything happens in a Test that helps you get to know yourself, and your cricket, better.
The century must have been a career highlight?
It was absolutely amazing. My debut Test, debut as captain, and the first Test innings I ever played. It was very special. Hopefully I'll get to do it again.
Is it a financial thing? TV rights? Fans?
That might be part of it, but there are probably a lot of reasons. The fact that we don't play that often means that our bodies may not be able to cope. The men play four, five Tests as part of a series, so they're used to it. I'd like in future for us to play at least one Test on a tour, and then continue with the rest of the games.
Another reason might be that suddenly a tour goes from one or two weeks to over a month, if you have to play four days of a Test, then rest, then other games. All those finances, from flights to accommodation, play a role I think.
Do you enjoy being captain? What are the best and worst parts?
In the beginning, I must say I was still trying to find my feet and it wasn't always easy. I was fortunate that I had a team around me that had a few captains, and they were willing to assist me. It's not always fun, though. Behind closed doors you have politics, and making tough choices and making team selections. It's not always easy.
And there's a lot you have to be aware of all the time. I sometimes have to remind myself that I'm there as a batsman as well, and I have to score runs. I can't think about my field placements while batting, or how we're going to defend the total, stuff like that. When I'm batting I have to put 'the captain' aside and focus on the task. That was one of the hardest changes, but I'm finding my feet there. The more we play, the more I am learning about the game. Practice makes perfect. In the beginning that was my biggest problem: we'd play once, and then nothing for two or three months. Now it's around four tours a year, so it's becoming easier, almost second nature.
England's captains, Alastair Cook and Charlotte Edwards, do promotional events together. Should CSA be doing that?
They have started doing that recently, like when there was a tour to play against the kids, they invited us so there was always Proteas men and women playing with the kids. And at the CSA awards they invited the whole team this time, not just some of us. But we have noticed how England have gone out of their way to make the girls part of their advertising. There's definitely room for improvement, maybe a gap in the market because women's cricket is not that well known in South Africa. It would definitely help to get some of our male counterparts, like AB, doing an ad with us, so we can get some of the Proteas' fans to follow us.
Speaking of AB, you are similar in that you can keep wicket, played many sports as a kid…
(Laughs) Just on that point. The last time I was a wicketkeeper was in primary school, for the boys. I always see it online and on Cricinfo, but I don't know where they got that detail!
My parents always felt that it was good to do all types of things, and then decide later on. I enjoy all types of sports, and I was fairly good at a lot of them, but I felt cricket would be the one to take me farthest and open up opportunities to compete internationally.
If you hadn't chosen cricket, what would you have picked?
Hockey, I think. I was quite good at it, and played provincially and at varsity. That and softball. I think it's the hand-eye co-ordination. It's quite similar, you have to see ball, hit ball. I was good at hockey due to the fact that I played cricket, I don't know how good I'd have been at hockey otherwise.
The general idea of women's batting is that you tend to play a lot more to the leg side because it's easier, and it requires a lot of strength to play to the off side. Do you find that to be true, in your own batting, and when setting fields?
I've heard that a few times, and it's true when you're looking for a relief option. But I must say that in the past few years women's cricket has developed quite a bit, and as the men's game has changed with their shots, it's filtered into the women's game. A lot of us have work quite hard on our off side batting. But to be fair, if you look at a T20, you'll have three or four fielders on the off side and the rest on leg, because that's where girls play relief shots. Also, it's not always easy to generate shots because of the lack of the pace on the ball. So combined with that and not being as strong as men, it's harder to hit over the off side. But I don't think it's a totally true statement anymore, it's a bit of a generalisation.
If you played some back yard cricket over Christmas against your brother, who would win?
(Laughs) I hope I'd win! I can't be South Africa's captain if I can't win at garden cricket. Though that's one area where I can have fun and I don't have to worry about winning. I like when I'm not playing international or provincial cricket, which is my job, to play a bit of beach cricket. I like to just get outside and play with my fiance and my dad. It's fun. If I do well that's fine, if I don't then I don't go and sulk in a corner.
So you wouldn't consider yourself overly competitive?
Ummm…. I am… I'm very competitive. But it depends on the situation. If it's casual and not competitive then I can just play for fun. I must say, on the international stage, winning is a lot more fun! But I won't go to extreme measures, step on somebody else to get on top. I still feel you should have good sportsmanship and play within the rules of the game.
Speaking of… What is the sledging like in women's cricket? Give us an example. Is it as crude as men?
I haven't felt sledging to be such a big issue in the women's game. I've read books about the sledges used in men's cricket and there's nothing that can compare to that. Below the belt, ugly, in your face. With us you'll hear a lot of 'buzzing' and you'll hear one or two comments…
Ag, things like commenting on how someone's holding their bat, or if you miss they'll point out how many dots you've faced. It's more about getting inside your head, but not in an ugly manner. But then again, I'm not one for sledging when I play, so it depends on the player. If someone sledges a lot when they're fielding, when they come in to bat they get a lot more back. Also, we usually play against teams like India or Sri Lanka, so even if they sledge us we don't know what they're saying so it doesn't bother us! Here or there you'll get someone who's quite competitive, a few swear words here and there that should be bleeped, but that's mostly just frustration coming out.
Do you enjoy touring? What's life on tour like, is it fun or just work, work, work?
With the men's team, they go on tour quite early and they have a few days before they need to play, and in between games they have a day or two, but with us we usually get there a day or two before. So if we have a spare day it'll be for training, and usually we'll only get one complete off day in a tour. But if we do have off time, or training in only in the afternoon, I like to go shopping and exploring. There are a few of us in the team that like going out to see the sights. You're usually only there once so you have to experience a bit of the culture and do some sight-seeing. I prefer to be out of the hotel, especially in the Caribbean. Sun, sea, sand, beach life! You can't sit in the hotel room then.
Do you watch cricket when you're not playing?
I don't watch cricket for hours and hours. I know I should but I like to do other things. Even when we come to SuperSport Park (Centurion) to watch cricket, I enjoy being with a group of friends, walking around a bit, chatting. I'll watch the game, but I don't sit and watch ball, ball, ball! I enjoy the atmosphere. But I must say, since I've become captain I have paid more attention. You find yourself wondering why the fielder moved there, or what the game plan is. It's one of the areas I want to improve on, the cricket nous or knowledge. But you learn the best from experiencing it first hand, though you can't prepare for every single scenario.
How would you describe your batting style?
It depends on the situation. I'm not known in our team as one of the big hitters, one of the aggressive batters. I'm quick between the wickets so I usually play the role of batting in the middle for longer periods, rotating the strike. I can though… In our last game we needed 14 from the last over and I was in the middle and we got the runs. I can also do the job if required! I surprised myself by hitting a six, it was fun.
With the Women's Big Bash League being talked about, would you be keen to play in it? Have you heard much about it?
I would definitely be keen. My one little worry is that it's in December and that's when I'm getting married. So I'm just waiting to hear what those details are, and whether they'll even invite us to come over. SACA (South African Cricketers' Association) have been in contact with Cricket Australia and they've said it's definitely happening. They have mentioned that they're busy working out the contracts and finalising the details, and then they'll look at the players that want. The did mention there would be 24 international players so I hope a few of our girls will make the cut. It would be a wonderful opportunity, it's probably the next big thing in women's cricket.
Have you ever thought of going to play in England? Can you even be a Kolpak player?
There are opportunities available. I did go to England about a year ago… But… In men's cricket, you can make quite a bit of money in the time you're there, but with the women's game they'll help with your airfare and arrange for you to stay with someone. Otherwise you have to look after yourself, and for me, at that stage, leaving my fiance behind for five months wasn't worth it financially. It was a wonderful experience, but you can't put experience in the bank. There are girls overseas though, and Dane van Niekerk and Marizanne Kapp were planning on going before they got injured. They do plan on going in the near future though.
When you play against internationals like Charlotte Edwards and Ellyse Perry and Stafanie Taylor, are they as good as we think, as they're made out to be in the media?
Yes, definitely. They're some of the best cricketers worldwide. I've played against all of them and they make a statement when they play. Sometimes you look at them and you think, 'They're not that good…' and then they still come off the field with a 100 or something, and you go, 'Ok, yeah, they are that good'. Someone like Charlotte Edwards, she's been playing international cricket since she was 16 or something, and I think money can't buy experience. She knows it all at the moment, and knows the game better than anyone. They deserve the recognition, and some of them may even may even prove a point with the guys!
Men's teams often make a point of going for a beer together after the game and are friends off the field. Are women's teams the same?
It depends on the tour. Usually at the end of a tour, before we leave, we'll make a plan to get together. You may not be friends with everyone, but you can usually have a chat with most people. Especially with the England girls, they'll usually have a function on the last night that we'll get invited to. And at the World Cup, same with the Australian girls. I get along well with most of them. When we see each other we'll chat, but it's not like we're Facebook friends or chat every week on Skype.
Lindsay du Plessis
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