The Enigma That Is South Africa’s Women’s Cricket Team By Cheryl Roberts

26 Oct

I’m convinced the South Africa’s women’s cricket team is an enigma. For many years I’ve been watching and supporting this team at live international matches in SA; most times I’ve been one of a handful of spectators and media at these matches.

And I just can’t understand why so few people support the national women’s cricket field at the ground, despite millions of people of all genders supporting cricket. How this is possible in a cricket playing country where many international matches get ‘sold out’ signs days before the match ball is bowled, just baffles me and makes me search for answers.

Girls and women do play cricket in South Africa. A national women’s team does play international cricket, representing South Africa in official colours. SA has participated in much international competitions at home and outside the country and women’s cricket world cups. The team is made up of teenage girls and young women of all colours from throughout South Africa.

So, if women support and like cricket so much, why don’t they support the national women’s cricket team? One of the reasons given is that people don’t know when the national team is playing. Ask someone in communications at Cricket South Africa and the reply is something like ‘but we are promoting women’s cricket, we do advertise the matches’. Come the international matches at home, on South Africa’s picturesque cricket grounds and all you get is a handful of spectators. Until the last international between South Africa and New Zealand was played in Paarl on Monday, this has been consistent spectator response over the years.

Besides the ground staff, team management and cricket officials, it’s mostly the families and friends of the players attending the internationals and provincial matches. And then there’s me; sometimes at the ground to watch the women’s game and do some media documentation.

I recall a few years ago, I was at Newlands cricket ground in Cape Town where SA was laying West Indies women. I had gone to the match with a friend; this being her first time to watch women’s cricket. There were hardly any spectators; just the ground staff again and a few others. My friend and I were some of the few people there. And then the West Indies number 3 batswoman decides to hit a six. She has the whole park to hit the ball for a six, there are very few people at the ground but she chooses to hit the cricket ball in the direction of where friend and I were seated on the grass. The ball grazed my friend’s ear and missed my face. Wow, I thought, of all the places she could have hit, the ball struck in our direction. We didn’t even catch the six; we were really shocked, though at this powerful hit.

And then there’s the enigma of the women’s cricket team itself. In my opinion, South Africa’s women’s cricket team is the most representative in sport. It has players of all colours. I’ve noticed they are a team mostly of ponytail hair, with some short natural hair and dreads. They are also not all heterosexual and feminine. In the current team amongst the player, some queer relationships exist within the team.

Surprisingly it’s an all male management of the national women’s cricket team, from the coach to the selectors, including the physiotherapist. Apparently, that’s how the women cricketers want it. They don’t want women coaches and management. Really? This is hard to believe, I think. We fight for women to have recognition and opportunities in sport and the women players don’t women coaches and management? I hear that some of the senior players in the team spoke to CSA player manager, Corrie van Zyl and told him their feelings of preferred male management instead of women.

A change of captain occurred after the women’s world cup, this year. Dane van Niekerk is the new captain. Apparently this change was necessitated because of something to do with ‘player domination over other players’. I mean this is an all women’s team, so why is there player domination?

And then you hear about two players facing a disciplinary hearing; the two players being the black women players in the team. So now I ask why national sportswomen are being disciplined in a sport that’s unlikely to show up unruly behaviour? Surely the women cricketers are better behaved than their male counterparts and rarely attract misbehaviour? Turns out, these women have brought it upon themselves with their behaviour involving their romantic relationship and, and after several warnings, will face the wrath of suspension.

Here is a national sports team that has all the ticks to say it’s a model sport of those believing in ‘rainbow’ South Africa. It’s a women’s sport. Varying sexualities and identities are reflected in women’s cricket. Yet women’s cricket has, at the time of writing this, an all-male management team; this being deemed necessary by senior women players in the team. And the team gets very few supporters and fans at the ground to see them play internationals. I’ve come to the realisation that South African women’s cricket is an enigma.

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South African women cricketers. (photograph by Cheryl Roberts)

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