Heinz Schenk
3 minute read
12 Apr 2014
1:00 pm

Cricket’s feminine face

Heinz Schenk

Mignon du Preez is just sitting down when her eye catches a bowl of assorted hard candies and mints.

FILE PICTURE: Mignon du Preez Proteas Women's captain.Photo by Lee Warren / Gallo Images

Before I can even pass it on, she stretches over and gleefully grabs a handful.

“I’m truly sorry, but these sweets are calling my name,” she says.

The accompanying grin reinforces her sincerity. But really there’s no reason for her to be uncomfortable. Many interviews have a formalised atmosphere in which interviewer and interviewee are too uncertain to make any kind of move.

Needless to say, I’m not in the least offended.

Du Preez herself has been breaking down prejudicial barriers. More, perhaps, than any player in the national women’s cricket side. Her exploits the past year have been momentous – and this was highlighted during the semifinal during the World T20 in Bangladesh last week.

As skipper and reliable performer she’s certainly been doing her part on the field. But she’s also been exerting real influence off the field.

The 24-year-old’s greatest attri-bute is her poise – a confidence she exudes wherever she is.

In public, her appearance is soft, yet always professional. During press conferences she almost never sits back in a chair.

Her posture is upright and open – a non-verbal cue that she’s willing to engage. At the same time, she’s almost sternly at ease with herself and her profession.

Such observations may seem something of an issue in a world of supposed gender equality, but Du Preez’s neat balance of femininity and sports professionalism undeniably changes perceptions.

“When I started playing cricket seriously, it was undeniably still a male sport. There definitely was the strong perception that you had to be a ‘butch’ girl if you wanted to play it,” she acknowledges.

“People were so eager to place you in that box. For me it’s been important that people realise you can be a girly girl and still play cricket. Many of us love shopping and the fun activities associated with being a lady. It’s an attitude we, as a team, have tried to encourage.”

There’s importance in that drive.

“Conversely, being feminine also doesn’t mean you lack the ability to make it in the game. The important part is realising that when you take to the field, all that matters is your potential and skills. That’s what encourages me about the sport in this country. I think we’re gradually changing perceptions,” she says.

Femininity is clearly a cornerstone of Du Preez’s philosophy and character – but she admits she had some help in her formative years.

“My sister and I are day and night. She was a ballerina and loved her make-up. I’m so grateful I had that balance. When I needed to impress a boy, I could raid her closet and ask her advice.

“What it also did was increase my self-belief. When hurtful things were sometimes said, I got comfort out of the fact that I knew what type of person I was and that I didn’t need to prove anything.”

Du Preez has a marketing degree, a high-school sweetheart she’s been seeing for eight years, and smiles broadly about her eventual aim of becoming a mom.

Quintessentially, she’s the modern woman. But her cricketing pedigree isn’t in doubt.

As a five-year-old, she won the award for best batter at her first mini-cricket day. She was a last-minute replacement to boot. And the boys were queuing on the beach to get her on their side.

“They were initially very opposed to having me playing with them, but when they realised after an hour that they still hadn’t had a bat because they couldn’t get me out, they took notice,” she chuckled.

Now she skippers a group of pioneers in the local game and she’s – well – normal.