An exciting 18 months lie ahead for women’s cricket in South Africa, as officials strive to rebuild the game which has suffered many setbacks over the past few years, due mainly to a lack of financial support.
There has been lots of work behind the scenes, since Cricket South Africa launched a specialised women’s cricket committee, headed by former South African international, Kerri Laing, and the future looks brighter than it did a few months ago.
Speaking to gsport, Laing, who represented SA in the World Cup in 1996, could barely contain her excitement.
“I can confirm that Pakistan will tour South Africa in January 2007 for a five-match ODI series. In July, we travel to Holland to play five ODI’s, and possibly a test. We’ve also been invited to India next November, but that is still in the planning process. We are likely to host Holland in January 2008 for a return five-match ODI series.
“We’re hoping that gives us the kind of preparation needed when we travel to Pakistan in March, 2008 for the World Cup qualifier.”
South Africa’s speedy arrangement of these tours come on the back of a recently-approved proposal by the ICC Women’s Cricket Committee that the top four countries have to play one home and one away tour per year, and that the rest have to play one home or one away tour per year.
Any country that does not play at least six one day internationals and two test matches in a two-year period will lose their test or ODI status.
The national women’s team hasn’t played against international opposition since South Africa hosted the 8th Women’s Cricket World Cup in March-April 2005.
And what a disaster the World Cup turned out to be for the South African women. They beat West Indies, but then lost four matches, failed to make the quarterfinals, and finished seventh.
Cricket writer Jane Bramley says the state of women’s cricket leaves much to be desired.
“We have some outstanding players, like Johmari Logtenberg and Alicia Smith, but it was very sad that at the last Women’s World Cup we were unable to reach the quarterfinals, and now have to qualify for the next World Cup.”
Laing is aware of the battle she faces in rebuilding the game, but, with the help of Cricket South Africa, she is determined to turn things around.
“Initially things went very slowly but suddenly everything seems to be happening. I have had a lot of support from Gerald Majola, Brian Basson, Max Jordaan and Mike Gagger. In fact, most if not all at Cricket SA offices have been extremely helpful in helping get the women’s game back on track.”
"If we could have a home and away tour every year, I believe we will be back up there challenging the top four teams within two or three years.
“We have a lot of young (in age but specifically in experience) ladies in our national and provincial squads, and all they need is to gain some regular international experience, and they will learn quickly what is required to be a top international player and team.
While Laing is delighted to have secured a few tours for the next year, she and her committee are still battling to find a sponsor that is willing to back women’s cricket.
Bramley agrees that sponsorship is a huge problem.
“Most sponsors get their return from television coverage, and until the media start taking women’s cricket seriously, sponsors will be hard to find. In England, the sponsors of the men’s team also sponsor the women’s team – its part of the deal. Maybe we could do something like that here.
“In the US, support for women’s sport grew after the Equal Rights Amendment [Bill] was adopted – schools and colleges were forced, because of the ERA, to give equal support to girls’ sports, and this continued into adult life. So, maybe we should ask the Constitutional Court for help!”
Recently, the women’s provincial setup was restructured, specifically with regard to transport and accommodation costs, which were a major problem for many provinces.
“We play in a provincial league split into a coastal and inland pool. There are 13 provinces participating in this year’s competition, and they play each other on a home and away basis, culminating at the end of the season with two cross pool semi-finals and a final.
“We have an exceptional amount of young talent coming through, and, if anything, we are short of experience in our national setup,” says Laing.
National women’s coach, Noor Rhode, believes a strong provincial league will result in a competitive national team.
“When women’s cricket was first introduced, we started off with eight provinces playing league cricket. Now, 14 provinces play, and there are some really good youngsters coming through. Already, with just two weeks of action in this year’s league, we have had eleven half-centuries scored.
“Previously, teams were made up of much older women, but with the influence of the under-19 cricket weeks, we’re getting more youngsters moving up to senior provincial level, and its really good to see.
“I am confident that in about five years time, we will have a national team capable of beating top sides in the world,” said Rhode.
For now, though, Rhode is concentrating on the job at hand; qualifying for the 2009 Women’s World Cup in Australia.
“With the new women’s cricket structures within the ICC, we are getting more tours. As we know, international cricket is a different ball game from provincial. Players are more disciplined. They lift their game significantly, and the more exposure they get, their game will improve. Our youngsters can only benefit.”
What an exciting time for women’s cricket. And no doubt, the International Cricket Council’s restructuring of the women’s game will benefit women’s cricket associations around the world.
If there was ever a time for sponsors to get in on the action here in SA, its now!