A passion for sport from a young age and growing the game of cricket from grassroots level led to KZN Inland Cricket’s Mercia Baatjies scooping the coveted 2020 Cricket South Africa Mini Cricket Coordinator of the Year award.

The former player opted to get involved in administration due to the lack of financial support for women cricketers.

She believes that her decision has given her the opportunity to open doors for other women to pursue their sporting dreams as the game has evolved over the years.

The mother of four is a master when it comes to juggling family and a demanding job but also lauds her husband for understanding her passion to give back to sport.

Speaking with Selina Munsamy, Baatjies reflects on her Mini Cricket journey and shares advice to young girls aspiring to become sports administrators.

Mercia, thank you for taking time out to chat. You won the coveted Mini Cricket Coordinator of the Year accolade at the 2020 Cricket South Africa Awards ceremony. How much does this recognition mean to you?

Thank you Selina, it is always wonderful to talk sport! It was special moment and I was so overwhelmed when my name was announced. This award is special for so many reasons. I had a very challenging few years and I kept on working even at times that I wanted to just give up. It is special because my regional coordinators and coaches just stepped up their game when at times I was in hospital or unable to travel, they carried on and pitched new ideas and they would run with it. I have an incredible relationship with my coordinators and going forward I just want them to shine and run with new ideas, but inline to CSA / KFC’s rules and regulations.

How did you get involved in Mini Cricket?

I did not choose Mini Cricket it chose me. I started as an administrator and became involved in mini cricket. I was told I won’t get the position because they had other plans for me in cricket, that night I went home and felt disappointed. My late dad said, “My child, it is not their decision, if God wants you there he will put you there.” I left it at that, and it happened so effortlessly that I moved into the position. My whole family and all my friends were so happy. My dad’s words were just pray and leave it in God’s hands. If it happens it is meant to be, and if it is does not, He has bigger and better plans instore. I live by these words!

I feel incredibly blessed and humbled that I have been awarded for something I love so much. I have a fantastic support structure, be it friends, colleagues and family and that really makes it not just a win for me but rather a win for everybody.

I dedicate this award to all who were instrumental in assisting by making me Coordinator of the year. It is important to me that people know it is not only through my hard work and sacrifices I won the award, but also the hard work of volunteers. If we can achieve this much during a year of so many challenges imagine if we had none we would be unstoppable. I wish to celebrate this momentous occasion with my Mini Cricket family.

Did you always want to be involved in cricket?

I always wanted to be involved in sports. Cricket was one of the sports I wanted to get involved in as I was playing it since I was a kid. I have radio tapes I had made pretending to interview Hansie Cronje and Jonty Rhodes, my mom kept them! 5FM sport hour used to be my favourite radio station to listen to as my cricketing heroes amongst other sporting heroes were always featured.

I was a tennis player so that has been my first love. I was hoping to continue with the sport, but God had other plans and I am so happy that I am in cricket. I had other dreams and plans on how I was going to enter the sporting world, and I am living my dream, it’s not how I planned it but it is so much better. Absolutely love what I do!

In December 2018, KZN Inland played host to the CSA U19 National Girls Week. What was it like to be selector during that week?

It was another level of stress, but good stress. It was the first time for me as a female selector and I think it is the first time that they included a female selector and umpires, so it was nice to be part of such a transformation. I did not feel intimidated as I thought I would be, as I have played the game and I was briefed thoroughly by my more experienced male counterparts.

They were amazing, and fun to work with. I must proudly admit that some of the players I scouted are currently doing well in provincial set ups. During the tournament some of them got Player of the Match awards, two players that we scouted are now playing for the National Women’s team and has been called up to join the SA Women’s academy, respectively. It is challenging and it can be a very draining process but I took a lot away from it and would love to do it again.

As a female in a male dominated sport what challenges did you face in your career and how did you manage to overcome them?

Firstly, I would like to say I am so proud of the efforts that is going into making women’s cricket accessible to all females who would like to play the sport. Challenges I faced in the past, women these days do not have to face so much anymore.  When I started training with the Eastern Province Senior team, I was asked to choose either to be a player or be an administrator. I knew I could play and go far but because I wouldn’t get paid made me choose administration as I was already married and had one child.

Other challenges were practice times. As women, some had jobs and it was at times challenging to get all the players at the same time, and it would not be safe to train late in the evening as some made use of public transport. If you had a child and you go on maternity leave, it is a challenge to bounce back and your space might be taken up by other good players.

So, if you want to be married and have a family of your own, these are the challenges you face as a female. I am lucky in the sense that, if I had chosen cricket my friends and family would have supported me, but few cricketers have that support. I felt ok at the time with walking away as I knew at that time it would have not been the right decision for me to continue playing. I think a lot more is being done to enable women to get as much exposure and fixtures as their male counterparts and that is amazing to see.

You have such a busy schedule with work, being a wife and mum to now four amazing children. Please give us some insight into how you make it all work.

Haha, it may look easy but it is not at times. I think it is a major help that I have a husband and a family that understands the demands of my job. I have an amazing helper that looks after my kids which give me that peace of mind that when I am not at home she takes care of my kids like I would, they absolutely adore her and so do we.

I grew up with mostly men, most of my best friends are male and although one will never fully understand the opposite gender, I don’t find it intimidating working as a woman in sport. I enjoy it! There are challenges but I take the positives out of each day and work with it. The making it count part is a team effort, if you working towards the same goal it is easier to achieve. Listening is a good skill to have. People feel part of the programme if they know they made a contribution or added value to make a difference, so I am always open to new ideas and it keeps things interesting. It is definitely not all about me, I learn as much as I can teach.

I can be both competitive in sports and yet be gentle at home. I can articulate my point in a room full of  men and still take off my shoes and do the dishes and play with my kids. I think I have so many layers and I can tap into those layers to adapt to situations. I adapt well when I am not in my comfort zone.

Favourite sports team and why?

Definitely the Springboks. I admire their efforts to always deliver when it matters. It is their ability to always bounce back, their willingness to transform and deal with their challenges that makes them special. I admire any team and person who can turn challenges and struggles into opportunities.

What advice would you give to other females out there wanting to pursue a career in sports administration?

Sport is changing lives, and it is a language that can bring people together and many understand. If you love sport and people, being in the sporting industry is going to be very fulfilling. There is a place out there for you if you want to contribute to the growth of women’s sport and always do it for the right reasons.

What is the one quote that inspires you?

I have my own saying that I live by, which is, “If it is meant for you, it will come to you. Not every fight is yours to fight, save your energy for the ones that will make a difference.” This keeps me focused and gives me inner peace.

Also, stay grounded and humble throughout your journey and you will see the fruits of your hard work.