"I promised the team the strongest, leanest Dane they've had in many years, and I gave them that, but it was unfortunately not enough."
On the sidelines of the inaugural edition of the Women's Premier League as a part of the star-studded Royal Challengers Bangalore team, Dane van Niekerk shared her thoughts with Cricbuzz.
It was indeed a very sombre evening in the Niekerk-Kapp household as moments before Delhi Capital's clash against Gujarat Giants on March 11, Marizanne Kapp shared a cryptic social media post with a caption,"End of an era".
And minutes later, van Niekerk shared an Instagram story indicating her decision to retire from international cricket after being riddled with injuries and off-field controversies.
“You have to accept that some chapters in our lives have to close without closures. There is no point in losing yourself by trying to fix what's meant to stay broken.”
With the emotions running high prior to the start of Delhi's game against the Giants, Kapp channelled her emotions into dismantling the Gujarat outfit by scalping her maiden five-wicket-haul in the shortest format.
And in the stands, van Niekerk was cheering on her partner and grinning ear to ear with every single wicket.
It has been a roller-coaster ride for the couple, who are pretty much at opposite ends of the spectrum in their professional careers, with Kapp blooming in her career and performing consistently at the international level.
"She's had such a great 2-3 years, and sometimes I think she feels guilty that I'm getting all these setbacks and she's just flourishing. But it's just a testament to the person she is, and I've told her there's no reason for her to feel any guilt whatsoever," she said.
It has been a challenging two years for van Niekerk as she last donned the South African jersey in September 2021 against West Indies away from home.
Two years and four months have gone by, and the South African all-rounder's journey has been a bumpy ride filled with ebbs and flows. Over a decade of international cricket, the 29-year-old's contribution to the sport is way beyond the 22-yards.
15 years and 298 days, a young girl from Pretoria became the second-youngest player to play the fifty-over format and someone who was touted to shatter numerous records along her journey.
At a time when South African cricket was in a dire state and fighting for survival in the world arena, van Niekerk's arrival at top-flight cricket was termed as a breath of fresh air in the national set-up.
She draws curtains on her glittering career as the third leading wicket-taker for South Africa in ODIs and T20Is behind Shabnim Ismail and Kapp.
And we are not done yet.
The right-handed batter is also second on the list of leading run-scorers in the shortest format, behind Lizelle Lee, who also retired from international cricket due to the team management's stringent fitness criteria.
While her overall fitness and weight have been the talk throughout her career, it has never hampered her performance on the field, especially after she graduated to captaincy across all formats in 2016.
With the team showcasing some massive improvement in the ODI Qualifiers prior to the 2017 World Cup in England, the Proteas entered the mega event as a side to watch out for in the competition.
While South Africa slowly and steadily started making the noises for the right reasons, fans around the world started taking notice of their heroics after the skipper weaved her magic with a four-wicket haul against West Indies.
She etched her name in the record books by becoming the first player across men's and women's sport to take four wickets without conceding a run against West Indies.
Despite stumbling in the semi-final of the World Cup against England in a nail-biting thriller, the skipper was proud of her team's inspiring campaign that shattered stereotypes and also scripted a glorious chapter in the history of South Africa's sport.
To a person who made the players believe in their talent and gave them wings to conquer the world, it was the start of something special for South African cricket despite the stutter.
In the three years that followed, South African cricket made steady progress under van Niekerk and also came agonisingly close to reaching the summit clash of the 2020 T20 World Cup Down Under.
However, with the unprecedented chaos amid the pandemic bringing sporting events around the globe to an absolute halt, van Niekerk's career started to go downhill courtesy of a dodgy ankle.
While she was recovering from the same, an unfortunate incident on a rainy morning at home fractured her ankle yet again months before the 2022 ODI World Cup in New Zealand and the subsequent Commonwealth Games.
With multiple injuries and lengthy time off the field coupled with emotional eating, van Niekerk struggled with her fitness and added around ten kilograms of weight.
Despite working extremely hard and getting into the required criteria of weight in accordance with Cricket South Africa’s guidelines, van Niekerk fell short by 18 seconds in the 2-kilometre mark, which shattered her hopes of leading the national side in a home T20 World Cup.
"I believe there should be parity in everything. Fitness is a crucial part of cricket, and I know this first-hand. But ultimately, you want to win matches for your country," she said in a conversation with Quint.
"You can have the fittest players of the world, but it’s of no use if they can’t win you a game of cricket. There should be a middle ground. You can always make a fitter cricketer, but you can’t make a cricketer. It’s about finding out where to draw the line," she further added.
Cricket is most definitely a skill game, and she is one of the most astute leaders in women's sport with a wealth of experience captaining in the shortest format, but her credentials were not enough for the team management to bend the rules in a tournament where handling pressure would be the top-most criteria.
As Dane Van Niekerk retired from international cricket, we recall her shocking exclusion from South Africa's T20 World Cup 2023 squad.@SHaranhalli and @ghosh_annesha had shared their thoughts on the same.#DanevanNiekerk | #SouthAfrica | #Cricket pic.twitter.com/EI087q7RCc— Cricket.com (@weRcricket) March 14, 2023
Despite all the drama surrounding her exclusion from the side on fitness grounds, van Niekerk was at the venue cheering for her team, not as a player but as a part of the official broadcaster for the event.
South Africa crumbled under pressure in the opening game against Sri Lanka, but they managed to pull through the odds and reach the summit clash of the home World Cup. They did not get over the finish line, but what they did was inspire a generation of kids to take up the sport.
"Our country needed something like that. I've always said since the time that I became captain that this team is going to create something special. Even though we did not win a World Cup, it was due for the team to produce something special," she said to Quint.
As the team walked around the Newlands stadium, thanking the fans for their immense support, a certain van Niekerk was applauding their efforts from the sidelines at a time when she should have been at the forefront of South Africa's rise at the international level.
But not everybody has a fairytale ending.
"I truly believe that what I have given for my country is enough, and the records speak for themselves," she said to Quint.
Unfortunately for her and the South African side, her EVERYTHING was not merely ANYTHING, and the Proteas have lost another gem.
If only the 18 seconds could be handled better, the world would have witnessed more of van Niekerk and her magic in Green and Yellow.