I woke up on Thursday morning to a great disappointment.

The only famous person I know personally had taken South Africa to the edge of glory in the Women’s World Cricket Cup, now being played in New Zealand. South Africa swept easily into the semi-finals thanks mainly to Laura Wolvaardt, who was until Thursday the best batter in the cup. She was usually the top scorer in the games she played.

Tall, lithe, graceful, with a mane of long dark hair, she was photographed around the world as ‘the queen of the cover drive’. On Thursday she stumbled and South Africa collapsed with her. We were beaten by England, whom we had beaten in the early round. Laura was out for a duck.

What would you do if you were 19 years old, had come top of your class in every subject, with As for every matric exam, were a gifted musician and composer, and also a world-class professional sports person? Would you relinquish your full-time sport to go to university? Or would you postpone your academic career for a while and use your youth, while you had it, to further your sporting career?

This was the choice Laura Wolvaardt had to make after matriculating. I have known her – off and on – since she was a baby. She was good at everything, at academic subjects, music and sport. I know her father, Derik, quite well. He is also extraordinarily accomplished at many things, but not sport. He is a nuclear engineer, who took a PhD in General Relativity as a sort of hobby. He is a world expert in mammal-like reptiles, the forerunners of mammals (us); these amazing reptiles roamed the world, and especially the Karoo, 300 million years ago. He was recently awarded another MSc on this topic.

But I’ve played squash against him many times, and he is only at the same level as me; in other words, pretty useless. His wife, Jessie, Laura’s mother, is no better. Both Laura and her younger brother are brilliant at sports. Genetics works in mysterious ways.

Her life’s progress

I have had only occasional contacts with Laura, but have watched her life’s progress with some awe. Her personality hasn’t changed since she was a toddler. She was always quiet, composed, modest and confident, always in full possession of herself. She is quite happy to listen but will talk if you want.

She began to take an interest in cricket very early; I remember her father trying to bowl tennis balls at her when she was about nine years old and getting hit all over the park.

At school she often played in the boys’ team and was sometimes man of the match. (I must ask her what she thinks about the different sporting abilities of adult men and women, something very much in the news now. She’d give as sensible an answer as anyone.)

She became interested in singing and composing. If you Google ‘Laura Wolvaardt. Fall in Love Again’, you will see her, as a schoolgirl, singing her own song to her school mates.

At the age of 16 she was chosen for the South African women’s national side (Proteas), where she proceeded to break international records. After matric, she decided to have a medical career and was registered to study for it. But full-time professional cricket got in the way, and her medical studies have been postponed.

Cricket scares me. At primary school, we had to choose between cricket and tennis. As I was filing away in the tennis group, the gym teacher shouted out, ‘Those are the boys who are scared of a hard ball!’ I thought to myself, ‘He’s hit the nail on the head.’

I was doing a bit of boxing at the time, and would much rather be hit in the head by a padded fist than a hard cricket ball. Surely fielding at silly mid on must be one of the most dangerous activities in the world of sport?

Cricket must be extremely nerve-wracking. One tiny slip can lose a match or dismiss even the best batsman. The most famous such failure was from Don Bradman, universally regarded as the best batsman in history, with a test match average of 99.94. In 1948 he walked onto the pitch for the last time. He only had to make four runs to push his average over 100. He went out for a duck on the second ball.

Silly and unfair

Something rather similar happened to Laura on Thursday. They make her an opening batter, which seems silly and unfair to me, since surely the best batter in the side should come in at Number 3 or 4? Opening is especially nerve-wracking. But Laura had performed wonderfully well up to then. Then, on Thursday, in the Protea’s biggest game to date, she was out for a duck, also on the second ball like Bradman, and South Africa wilted away against the team they had beaten two weeks before.

Was it because England had struggled in the first half of the championship whereas South Africa had breezed through? Psychology is all-important in sport, and maybe some strange psychology had cursed the Proteas on the day. No doubt they will brood and learn, and perhaps win the cup next time, when Laura will still be very young.

I seldom get a chance to drop names, although I often have them dropped on me. (‘Name drops keep falling on my head.’) Laura is the only famous person I know personally, so obviously I can’t let this chance go to drop her name.

Laura is now 22 years old. She has everything, looks and talent. She could excel in many fields. I think of myself at 22. Oh dear! What a contrast! I think of the precious little I have achieved in the half-century since. What will Laura achieve in the next half-century?

[Image: Bahnfrend, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=113530197]

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Andrew Kenny is a writer, an engineer and a classical liberal.