When I first started my career in cricket, we had to juggle between cricket and our jobs. It was never easy trying to pursue a passion and love at the expense of financial security. I always knew that I was headed in a career that wouldn’t always offer the best financial opportunities because women’s cricket was not fully professional at the time, but I always wanted to follow my passion with the hope that my hard work and dedication would come through for me.

I used to sacrifice a lot of time for practices and matches, even going so far as missing exams for my love of the game. Fortunately, the University was accommodating towards my cricket and would allow and approve for me to write my tests early the following year so that I could keep up with my class. There were many times where I questioned whether all of the effort to participate in the sport was worth it but also many moments which made the sacrifices worth it.

Growing up in the rural village of Middledrift in the Eastern Cape, I was never exposed to cricket at an early age. It was only after a few matches of mini cricket where my interest in the game grew and I suddenly wanted to play more. We didn’t have a girl’s team so I had to fit in with the boys, that definitely helped to give me a thick skin because I wanted to prove that I was just as good as the boys. I was identified at the age of 13 and brought into the Border Women’s cricket structures going from Provincial colours to eventually playing for Border Women – I didn’t look back from there. I am so thankful to Border Cricket and all of my coaches for planting the seed and giving me the support and belief to fight for my cricket career. There are a lot of coaches and selfless volunteers who give so much to the women’s game, they all play a part in the ecosystem that produces future Proteas.

“As disappointing as it was to lose to Australia in the semi-final of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup, I feel we will take a lot of lessons from the disappointment which will help us in the future.” – Momentum Proteas cricketer, Ayabonga Khaka

The Momentum Proteas had a really great season, I feel we played some good cricket and were really starting to understand our roles within the squad. As disappointing as it was to lose to Australia in the semi-final of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup, I feel we will take a lot of lessons from the disappointment which will help us in the future.

We also shared some special memories on the field too. The 3-0 series win against New Zealand in their backyard was the highlight of the season for me. I came back into the squad last year after a year on the side-lines because of injury. That was one of the toughest years of rehab for me. My injury went from being three months out, too six months to eventually a year. I was really demoralised and down, I had to dig deep to stay focused on my comeback and return to play. I couldn’t have done it without my physios, trainers, coaches and teammates.

I think we have come a long way as an ODI unit since the 2017 World Cup and have really stepped up to compete against the big nations. We had a great chance, especially with the way we have been playing our cricket. It is a pity that the World Cup was postponed due to Covid-19 but we need to see it as a silver lining for us to continue putting in the hard work in preparation for 2022. My biggest aspiration is winning the World Cup for South Africa and I hope that dream can come true while I am still playing.

Momentum’s involvement has given us that extra lift as a squad. The national contracts and the opportunity to receive bursaries for us to study while we are playing has allowed us to focus on our cricket without stressing about the financial part of our career. Momentum’s involvement has made the women’s game a career and has helped women’s cricket in our country to grow. The players are now focusing on their game more than before and are committed to putting in consistent performances.

“I really hope that more companies will also get involved in women’s sport because you do find a lot of talented athletes giving the game up because they need to make a living.” – Khaka calls on corporates to invest in women’s sport.

I really hope that more companies will also get involved in women’s sport because you do find a lot of talented athletes giving the game up because they need to make a living. Having their backing has given us a change of attitude as a squad, we are more confident, and we believe. It was so special having the Deputy Minister of Sport, Art and Culture Ms Nocawe Mafu and Momentum’s Carel Bosman cheering us on at the World Cup in Australia, that support is priceless.

I can’t begin to explain the thrill of playing in front of a full house of spectators and fans in Australia, the experience was out of this world. The World Record crowd at the Final is an example of the possibilities that are available to women’s cricket and sport when there is investment and vision. I must applaud the ICC, Cricket Australia and the people of Australia for putting on a great tournament. I hope South Africa will go one better when we host the Women’s T20 World Cup in 2022.

I would like to see women’s cricket as a big thing in the next 10 years in South Africa. There is so much talent to unearth so there is a lot of development work that needs to be accelerated, especially at grassroots level. I can only imagine how many young girls like myself in the rural areas are not exposed to the sport but have the talent and the passion. I hope every corner of South Africa will be tapped to grow the next generation. This is a big wish, but I would also like to see women’s provincial cricket being professionalised in the next 10 years. There is no reason why we can’t have strong Leagues like the WBBL and Kia Super League, we definitely have the talent, we only need the commitment and resources.

I am a simple rural village woman. I am so lucky that cricket gave me an opportunity to make something meaningful about my life. I hope my journey can show many other young girls that hard work and determination does pay off.