For the game and for glory
May 22, 2022
Sports can be a form of worship and the former South African captain Mignon du Preez proves it. The 32-year-old right-handed batter has lead teams in both One Day Internationals and Twenty20 (T20) tournaments for her country, becoming the highest run-scorer in history in South Africa’s women’s cricket.
Du Preez is an inspiration for many aspiring cricketers and has consistently been a driving force for her team, especially during the International Cricket Council Women’s World Cup in 2022. During that tournament, she scored 52 runs and helped her team beat India by three wickets, earning a spot in the semi-final match against England. During that match, she only fell two runs short of scoring half a century. Her performance against New Zealand this March became her swan song as she announced her retirement from long format cricket.
But the prolific cricketer is more than a powerhouse in sport; She is also a spiritual inspiration, using her “God-given gift’ to bring excitement and joy to her team and spectators alike. In this way, her playing becomes a connection to the divine too, as she pushes for the evolution of women’s supports.
Du Preez was recently part of the first privately held but ICC-sanctioned women’s franchise league FairBreak Global Tournament that has featured top players from more than 30 countries. The tournament hosted six teams playing 19 games over the course of 15 days, concluding on May 16. Du Preez played for Warriors and managed to turn the heat up with a stellar performance of 54 out of 75 balls, which proved to be a match-winning inning.
Du Preez plays for the love of God, honoring the little girl in her who fell in love with cricket. In her interview with The Express Tribune, she talks about her love for cricket and what it means to be a top athlete in a traditionally male-dominated sport.
ET: What attracted you to sports in the first place? What are your first memories involving sports?
MdP: My parents knew from a very young age that I was gifted with ball skills. My first memory was playing in a Bakers Mini Cricket festival at the age of four in my older brother’s team and my dad was the coach of the team. At the end of the day, I was named the best ‘batter’ of the day and that is where my love started for the beautiful game.
ET: How do you think cricket shaped your experiences in life?
MdP: Cricket has taught me so many life lessons from having good sportsmanship, to sharing and celebrating other’s successes, to bouncing back from disappointment and dealing with failure. Cricket also gave me the opportunity to travel around the world and meet people from all walks of life. It’s given me the opportunity to experience different cultures and appreciate my life and what I have.
ET: What kind of sports were your family involved in?
MdP: My brother and dad also played cricket, especially indoor cricket at a competitive (national and international level).
ET: What challenges did you face as a female athlete since you started playing cricket when you were very young?
MdP: I think the biggest challenge was to change people’s perceptions that cricket is NOT only a ‘boy’s sport’ and that you can be a girly girl and still compete. Another big challenge was a lack of professional structures in the girls/women’s game and limited funding. Women’s cricket was still only an amateur sport with not a lot of female role models to aspire to.
ET: Did you see these challenges grow or dissipate as your career grew in cricket?
MdP: The challenges definitely got smaller as women’s cricket became more professional in South Africa.
ET: How do think cricket has evolved since you started in 2007 up until now, 2022? What are the practices you see fading away in women’s cricket and what are the new trends and [practices in place that you feel are more helpful?
MdP: I think women’s cricketers adapted to the new professional era and you see a lot of focus on strength and conditioning training, batters having a lot more power and [are] getting more innovative, bowlers [are] having more variations and [there are] very athletic fielders.
ET: Please tell us a little about how your journey started in cricket?
MdP: My cricket journey started at the very young age of 4 and a half through the mini cricket program. My dad was the coach of my brother’s mini cricket team, and as a supportive baby sister, I always went with the two men in my life to watch my brother play. Even as a supporter I made sure that I was fully kitted out in the mini cricket shirts and shorts. One day, one of the players couldn’t manage to get to the game on time and they needed a player to fill the spot. Since I was already dressed accordingly, they asked me to help out. At the end of the day, I won my first trophy for the best batter of the day and that’s where my love started for the wonderful game of cricket.
ET: Which teams would you say have been formidable opponents to your side
MdP: Australia and India.
ET: What are the biggest lessons you learned as a captain?
– You will never be able to keep everyone happy.
– Failure is an opportunity to try again, the next time with a little bit of experience.
– Control the controllable
– You need to create an environment that allows players to thrive if you want to get the best out of them
– Understand and respect different individuals
– Everyone is entitled to their own opinion
– Don’t forget why you fell in love with the game
– You can continue to lead without a title
ET: You hold various major records across all the formats, among many there’s one that says you have been one of the most consistent players, (refereeing to the record of consecutive matches, most as a captain in ODIs and otherwise in T20 too) so what has been the key to your consistency?
MdP: My motto is “my talent is God’s gift to me and what I do with it is my gift back”. I try to see every game I play, simply as an opportunity to use my God-given talent to glorify Christ. Thus, it helps to take the pressure off me as my focus is simply to do my best and I know God will take care of the rest.
ET: Is there any personal ritual or practice that you have before going for to the matches?
MdP: Night Before: Pack my bags and go through some of my notes and/or visual footage of opposition players.
Morning of the game: Bible study, watch a motivational video (the same one every time) and then I listen to Praise and Worship music on the bus on the way to the ground.
At the stadium: I’ll do a couple of ‘feel good hits after warm-ups before the game, I’ll pad up when our first wicket falls and always wear my helmet when I am next in to bat (to switch on and feel that I am ready to go at any time).
Before I go to bat: I go down on my knee and say a prayer “Christ died for me, now I play for Him and I thank Him for the opportunity to play”.
ET: How important do you feel mental health is for you?
MdP: I think it’s extremely important and not enough attention is given to this aspect of the game. Players need to understand that ‘it’s okay not to be okay, it’s not weak to speak and they should never suffer in silence. In the professional era teams often make use of sports psychologists to help players deal with mental health better.
ET: Who are the sports-persons who inspired you growing up in cricket? And if you have one, please mention your over-all sports hero.
MdP: Sachin Tendulkar – he always had such a presence at the crease and despite all the fame, he remained humble.
ET: Who is a women athlete that inspired you in your career?
MdP: Serena Williams
ET: The format of cricket you enjoy the most while playing and while watching?
MdP: T20 and the Hundred. It’s fast-paced, fun, and extremely exciting.
ET: You announced your retirement from the longer form of cricket recently. Was it easy to reach to this decision?
MdP: It’s never an easy decision to step away from something you love as much as I love cricket. However, I felt the time was right to step away from the longer formats of the game. I want to prioritise spending a bit more time at home with my husband, Tony, [to] start planning for a family of our own in the near future.
ET: What is the favourite inning of yours?
MdP: My maiden test 100 in my one and only test match. Scoring a match winning 90* against India in Potchefstroom right after I was dropped for the first time in my career.
ET: Tell us a little bit about your hometown. Was it easy to have access to sports facilities and to play sports as a girl?
MdP: I was extremely fortunate that I had a very strong support structure growing up with parents willing to drive me to training and had access to really good sport facilities around my hometown area and school.
I grew up in Pretoria, South Africa. I was in Doringkloof Primary School and went to Zwartkop Highschool. In Primary School, I mainly played cricket with the boys’ teams. However, I was lucky enough that my high school was one of the very few schools in my region that had a girl’s cricket team.
Super Sport Park is in my hometown. I lived only a couple of minutes’ drive from there and from a very young age I had access to some of their facilities.
Super Sport Park has recently named a gate in my honour, the ’Mignon du Preez’ Gate. I think I am one of the only females to have a gate named in [her] honour at an international cricket stadium.
ET: How is cricket growing among women in South Africa?
MdP: We have seen quite a big growth in the women’s game after our success as the Momentum Proteas in the 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup. After that tournament, Cricket South Africa (CSA) invested a tremendous amount of time and money into the women’s game. Now that all our games get televised back home, we finally have female role models that young girls can aspire to [be].
Unfortunately, the -gap between the national and domestic structures is still huge. However, recently CSA has also contracted a selected few High Performance Players and the top six provincial teams (domestic teams) now also have five contracted players each which is definitely another step in the right direction.
ET: Who are upcoming players that have impressed you lately?
MdP: Laura Wolvaardt and Nadine de Klerk
ET: Are you playing cricket or is there any other job that you do?
MdP: I am currently only playing cricket but I have an honours degree in marketing that I plan on starting [using] in the near future.
ET: You are playing the Hundred tournament and Women’s Big Bash league. Where do you see franchise cricket helping women cricket the most, including now with FairBreak Tournament?
MdP: I think it helps us grow as people and individuals first. Then, as cricketers, we gain valuable experience and knowledge about the game and other players around the world. You get to experience various professional environments and we can then take the information back to our own country and share those experiences again to help others grow as players too.
ET: How did you prepare for FairBreak Tournament, which is the first private franchise T20 tournament in women’s game?
MdP: I’ve had a little less preparation time than I usually [do] have before a tournament. Thus, I tried to make the most of my batting sessions by focusing on getting into strong positions and [I] worked on power hitting and my innovation options. I also continued with my SA strength and conditioning program (some gym and running sessions).
ET: How often do you train per week and what keeps you motivated to go back to it?
MdP: I try to train daily during the week and do some active rest over weekends. I want to be the best version of myself and my motto is “my talent is God’s gift to me and what I do with it is my gift back”. Thus, I want to make sure that I use my gift to the best of my ability to glorify God’s name and that is what drives me to keep going back.
ET: What are your favourite places to play cricket in and why?
MdP: In South Africa, Newlands Cape Town — it has beautiful scenery.
Abroad, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) — it’s simply spectacular.
ET: Your batting has undergone quite a transformation. Was there a point or a moment in your career when you felt the need to switch from a more conservative to an attacking player? Or was it just a gradual process?
MdP:I think after I played in the first WBBL (Women’s Big Bash League) in 2015 I had an opportunity to see what the skill level of the best players from around the world were like at that time and I realized that I needed to adapt my game if I wanted to try and keep up with the best.
ET: What is your message to women aspiring to be athlete?
MdP: Always remember that “behind the athlete you become and the coaches who push you is a little girl who fell in love with the sport, always play for her.”