Lizelle Lee is a cricketing powerhouse

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GK CRONJE

15 March 2022

Cricket is a simple sport at its core. A ball is delivered. Someone with a bat 20.12m away has to hit it... and few hit it harder than Lee.

Suzuki Ermelo (WEB) 22 September 2020.jp

South Africa’s Proteas find themselves in an unfamiliar position heading into the 50-over World Cup in New Zealand. For the first time in 14 global tournaments, they harbour realistic ambitions of lifting the trophy. “We wouldn’t be going if we didn’t all believe we could actually do it,” says Lizelle Lee, the team’s destructive opening batter who was recently recognized as the best 50-over player in the world by the International Cricket Council (ICC). “We spoke about this in camp. We all agreed that there was no point in going if we didn’t intend to come back as champions. We know it’s never been done before, but we want to make history as the first South African team to win a World Cup.” South Africans have conquered the world before.

The men’s Under-19 team, captained by Aiden Markram and coached by Ray Jennings, in 2014 became the first side to win a major final. But no senior squad has done it. This group is unburdened by a history of failing when it mattered. The South African women’s side, under-resourced in every metric compared with their male counterparts, have long fought for equality in the country’s third most popular sport. All too often they’ve been regarded as an afterthought, contesting untelevised games in near-empty stadiums. “When I was growing up, I didn’t even know there was a South African women’s team,” says Lee, who grew up in Ermelo, and will be turning 30-years-old in April. “It just wasn’t something I was conscious of and I know a lot of other girls will tell you the same thing. It wasn’t on TV. You didn’t see games advertised. I played because I loved the game. I didn’t play for fame or money or recognition.” The dial shifted in 2013 when insurance firm Momentum joined as a title sponsor and helped Cricket South Africa (CSA) fund full-time contracts for six players. That number increased over the years, there are currently 15 centrally contracted players with CSA, but changes in other facets have been slow. The team was constantly playing catch-up with the more advanced cricket ecosystems in Australia and England, which together have won 16 of the 18 global showpieces since 1973.

“Those countries are so far ahead,” says Lee, who has been a mainstay in the Australian Women’s Big Bash League, and has played for Somerset and Surrey in England. “Women players are given a much bigger platform there. I’m more recognised when I walk around there than I am in South Africa. But it is changing.” Lee credits CSA for ‘promoting the women’s game’ but the players have advanced their own cause on the field. By the time the T20 World Cup in Australia came into focus in January 2020, Lee could look around a dressing room studded with match-winners. “It’s not that it happened all of a sudden, because we’d been working hard for a few years,” she says. “But now we have superstars all around, genuine world-class players.” By winning the ICC ODI’s Women’s Cricketer of the Year award for 2021, she joins an elite list that includes all-time greats Stefanie Taylor of the West Indies, England’s Sarah Taylor, New Zealand’s Suzie Bates and Australian duo Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry.

That’s easy enough to understand. Cricket is a simple sport at its core. A ball is delivered. Someone with a bat 20.12m away has to hit it... and few hit it harder than Lee. She’s officially the best woman in 50-over cricket. And if she can hit enough balls with enough force, she may also be a World Cup champion. - Daniel Gallan, New Frame