Women’s cricket is going places in South Africa, and if Cricket South Africa (CSA) has its way, things should just get better and better. As a result of their outstanding performance at the ICC Challenge tournament in Potchefstroom last year, South Africa improved their international standing and are now ranked fifth in the world, behind the Big Four: England, New Zealand, India and Australia.
South Africa were unbeaten in the ODIs and finished third in the Twenty-20 competition. The Challenge was held to determine positions 5-10 on the international rankings ladder.
“What is outstanding is that they have achieved this with very limited resources,” said coach Yashin Ebrahim, who took over the position shortly before the start of the ICC Challenge. “Their work ethic is superb, and they play with pride and passion – and they do it for no money at all. The commitment of the players in our national squad is brilliant.”
The next challenge facing the women’s team is a series against world champions England in Potchefstroom in October and Ebrahim believes this could be a watershed series for women’s cricket in this country.
“We might lose the series 3-0,” he said. “But what is important is the manner in which we lose. If we lose by 10 or 20 runs, or by one wicket, against the best team in the world, people might start sitting up and taking us seriously. But who knows? We might even win.”
CSA, with support from the National Lotto, has put in place a high performance programme for the top players to help them compete at the highest level.
“We have a professional coach for the elite players, and we have also brought on board assistant coaches to help with skills training,” said CSA Senior Cricket Manager Max Jordaan.
He said other specialists, such as a video analyst to study matches and players, a bio-kineticist and a team manager had also been appointed.
“We have also introduced a match fee for international matches. Many of the players have to take unpaid leave to be able to play, and the match fee helps a bit,” said Jordaan. He said players had responded well to the introduction of the high performance programme, with some who had retired two years ago returning to the game.
Jordaan said women’s cricket was played at 16 of CSA’s affiliate unions. These affiliates were divided into the Super Four: Highveld (Gauteng, Easterns, Northerns, Limpopo and Mpumalanga); Central (KZN, KZN Inland, Free State, Griqualand West and North West); West Coast (Boland and Western Province) and East Coast (Kei, Border, Eastern Province and South Western Districts).
“Each of the Big Four regions has a talent scout so that we are always on the lookout for up and coming players,” said Jordaan. He said great progress was also being made at the Under-19 level, which serves as a feeder level for the national team.
“For a long time, no-one wanted to play us, because we were ranked 11th,” said Jordaan. “But then we finished second at the 2008 Under-19 World Cup, and suddenly people were keen to play us.”
Jordaan and Ebrahim were in agreement that it was important to try to find employment within the South African cricket family for members of the national team. Jordaan said that in India, the banks and the railways were showing their support for women’s cricket by providing them with work as soon as they were selected to the national team.
“Quite a few of our players, like Trisha Chetty, have been appointed as coaches in the provinces,” he said. “Of course, they don’t make much money there, but it does help to make it easier for them to continue playing.”
Captain Cri-Zelda Brits has been part of the national team for the past 10- years and is therefore well qualified to judge. “Things have definitely improved,” she said. “Our coaching has become more professional – we have specialists appointed to deal with different aspects, and the attention to detail is fantastic.”
She agreed that the coming series against England was of major importance. “We know that teams like England have been in the same place we are now, but they’ve moved ahead,” she said.
“If we are going to compete against the top four, we have to become semi-professional, but to do that, we have to prove to potential sponsors that it is worth spending money on us.
“We also have to prove that we are willing to work hard. We have to put up a good show against England. If we do, the other top teams would be willing to play us, and we would be exposed to more and better cricket. So there is a lot hanging on that series against England. I can promise you that we will be playing with a lot of passion.”