If Shania-Lee Swart continues to bat like this, many more of these will come her way. Photo courtesy: Shania-Lee Swart   s Facebook page.
If Shania-Lee Swart continues to bat like this, many more of these will come her way. Photo courtesy: Shania-Lee Swart s Facebook page.

Shania-Lee Swart is not your usual 17-year-old. At an age when girls obsess over Barbie dolls and Disney princesses, Shania-Lee prefers to smash fast bowlers out of grounds. She plays cricket for Mpumalanga Women Under-19s; in fact, she has been playing for them since she was 15. She hits the ball extremely hard and bowls fast (as well as spin). Her hockey is good enough for her to earn a place for Mpumalanga IPT Ladies Hockey team twice in a row. She has also played athletics, golf, and netball at provincial level. Oh, and she is also proficient in basketball.

Earlier this week Shania-Lee attained cult status in the world of cricket after slamming an 86-ball unbeaten 160 for Mpumalanga Women Under-19 T20 match against Easterners. If that does not sound spectacular, here is the catch: not a single teammate of Shania-Lee scored a run, though there were 9 extras. Take a moment to let that sink in: while Shania-Lee made her way to 160 not out, her partners remained scoreless despite facing 37 balls between them.

Statisticians across the world went into a frenzy that overshadowed two high-profile Test matches for awhile. There were frantic searches for parallels, but there was nothing of the sort in any form of recorded cricket. Someone actually pointed out to me that this was more like the ubiquitous group projects where only one member per team contributed (something Shania-Lee, still a student, will herself be able relate to).

 

 

The performance was not a one-off. Shania-Lee has scored 640 runs over a six-day span, all in limited-overs cricket (what was that about WG Grace s 1876 run of 839 runs in eight days, again?). The amazing run includes, along with this incredible 160, a knock of 289 in a 50-over match. No, there is no typo: the 289 was an individual score.

Not asking for an interview was, therefore, out of the question. She obliged.

Shania-Lee s first exposure to serious cricket came as a child. Having a sibling helped, for she and her brother played a lot of mini-cricket. The parents backed them up. My parents support for both my brother and myself has always been overwhelming and unconditional in any aspect of our lives, Shania-Lee told.

She was playing some cricket for fun when she was first spotted by Cheri Hill and Quintie Naude. She certainly had fun she had as she hit the Easterners this Monday.

She was barely a teenager at that stage, but Hill and Naude asked her to play for high school. She was even sent to Mpumalanga Under-19 trials. She was selected.

Back then she used to be a bowler. She had taken 6 for 42 in a 50-over match against Northerns. She was a mere 14 at that point. At that point I was still quite young and my cricket career was still in its beginning stages, she recalled nonchalantly.

Then the focus changed: I was still learning how to build a great innings. I also try to adapt to what my team needs from me as I have always enjoyed both batting and bowling.

The conversation steered towards match day, where, if I may remind you, Shania-Lee had blasted 160 and her partners, between them, nought.

First she was very hungry for runs. And then runs made Shania-Lee Swart very hungry. Photo courtesy: Shania Lee-Swart   s Facebook page.
First she was very hungry for runs. And then runs made Shania-Lee Swart very hungry. Photo courtesy: Shania Lee-Swart s Facebook page.

Shania-Lee had lost Charlize Swanepoel, Nicolein van Rensburg, and Jammie de Vos soon. At that stage the score read 19 for 3. Yonella Vellelo walked out at that stage. Shania-Lee knew she had to take charge, but she was also aware that her side were three down: I knew that Easterners had a good bowling attack and therefore respected the good balls and attacked the bad balls. I was patient to see out their main bowlers and used their part-time bowlers to capitalise on. As I was the in batsmen I tried to face as many balls of the over as possible and at the end of the over, looked to rotate the strike to be on strike at the beginning of the next over.

Most professionals would think that way. Few, however, would actually go on to execute it to such superhuman levels.

The Easterners bowlers tried to tighten the noose. If Shania-Lee could not be stopped, why not strangle her partners? Khoza Masingita, Karen Woest, and Tumi Sekukune all bowled a maiden apiece. Did the maidens bother Shania-Lee? I believed I was able to capitalise at the other end, said she.

Somewhere in another continent, Virat Kohli, who had been doing spectacular things in 2016, would have appreciated. Few cricketers have been as positive and confident as Kohli. It is not a coincidence that Kohli is one of Shania-Lee s favourite cricketers, the others being Sarah Taylor and Charlotte Edwards.

But Yonella perished soon. Angelic Vos followed. There was another little partnership, but the flow was halted by Tumi, who took a hat-trick to send back Maria Malaza, Shivani Nades, and Lebone Tlou. There was still a ball left in the over when Nicholate Phiri walked out. The score read 108 for 8.

The advice was basic: There is one ball left in this over. Just see it out.

Nicholate did survive the ball. She would face only two more, without scoring, in an unbeaten ninth-wicket stand of 61.

The carnage continued at the other end, punctuated by singles to keep strike. The innings featured 18 fours and 12 sixes, which amounted to 144 of his 160 runs. So severe was her onslaught that Shania-Lee never realised that none of her partners had actually scored a run. It was only after the innings that the Adele van Eck, the opposition coach, informed her of her achievement.

The internet comes with its advantage. Shania-Lee s story went viral within minutes of our story on the innings. We were not the only one. The reactions varied between awe and disbelief. Many people around the world cannot believe something like this has happened, an astonished Shania-Lee told me.

I had to ask the obvious question at this stage. Is Shania-Lee someone who remembers records? Some stars pretend to go the records-do-not-matter-to-me way in a similar way that Miss Universe contestants invariably claim they want world peace.

The response was pleasantly honest: This is something I will never forget and something I will always be proud of. Of course, she was quick to add that she does not let these things define her. She wants to keep enjoying the sport and try to stay humble.

She was overwhelmed by the response to her innings, at the reaction on social media across the world. Abnormal, she says.

The rising sun of Mpumalanga. Photo courtesy: Shania Lee-Swart   s Facebook page.
The rising sun of Mpumalanga. Photo courtesy: Shania Lee-Swart s Facebook page.

Indeed, every single newspaper and sport website seems to have done a story on her. Her friends have dropped in with congratulations.

Years down the line, these same friends would proudly tell their grandchildren that they knew the girl who had once scored 160 when her teammates got nothing (I cannot help but keep going back to it: do you even realise how amazing it was?).

I asked her about the best reaction her innings has had. She recollected someone saying it must have been difficult to choose the player of the match .

Did I tell you she also took 2 for 21, the best figures for her side, later in the match?

It has been an amazing run for Shania-Lee, but this almost certainly the cr me la cr me: despite everything, she was not being recognised, which is often the case with club cricket for women. But the 160 has propelled her to instant stardom. This could open a few doors.

I would be surprised if it does not.

There had to be another question, of course, the obvious one. Was this not the best possible option to get something out of your parents? What did Shania-Lee ask for?

Some food, came the reply. I was very hungry.

I could not help but nod and smile at the innocence of youth.

The name Mpumalanga literally translates to where the sun rises . Maybe they were referring to Shania-Lee Swart.