Women cricket on the rise
There’s a quiet revolution underway in Pietermaritzburg, but there’s nothing subversive about it. If anything, it’s out in the open, certainly as far as the KwaZulu-Natal Inland Cricket Union (KZNICU) is concerned that has thrown its considerable weight behind efforts to promote women’s cricket.
It’s by no means an easy sell for reasons to do with traditional male dominance of cricket as a boys sport. But the divisions are breaking down, and fast, judging by the sport’s uptake in northern KZN where it is taught at school.
The centrifugal force behind women’s cricket is The Oval in Pietermaritzburg, the headquarters of the KZNICU, that administers cricket in all its manifestations throughout the province’s interior.
The on-field ambassadors for women’s cricket in the region are the team members … making up the Kwazulu Natal Inland ladies squad and the Kwazulu Natal Inland U19 squad that will be doing battle in the National School’s Week in Oudtshoorn later this month.
While the under-19 squad comprises scholars, the senior team boasts a … healthy mixture of students, teachers, self-employed individuals and complemented by a sprinkling of professions. Manager/Coach Yuvi Nirghen, for example, is a project officer with a provincial government department.
It was Nirghen passion for cricket that converted her converted her from a spectator to a player. A camp organised by the KZNICU and the KZN Inland ladies team paved the way for Nirghen to pursue her passion.
“I’m so grateful for the opportunity to continue my passion with cricket,” she said.
There are certainly challenges of popularising a sport that, in relative terms, is mostly foreign to women, she explained.
“The fact is cricket is competing against other sporting codes like hockey, netball, tennis, and volleyball, among others,” she said.
“The process has to start at school level because that’s where the foundation is laid for some basic ball skills to eventually allow for the teaching of technical skills,” she said.
In this respect, Nirghin cites the precedent in northern KZN, specifically Newcastle, where the introduction of cricket to girls has ignited a veritable revolution.
“Our under-19 Inland squad is dominated by players from Newcastle High School, Ferrum High School, also in Newcastle, and Ladysmith High School, mainly as a result of the efforts to introduce the sport,” she says.
“Our city representatives are from Carter High School, Epworth and Willowfountain Secondary,” she says.
Despite the newness of cricket among women, the process is already starting to reap dividends as promising players are starting to come through the ranks.
“We really need to build the “… age group structures, as is the case with the boys who have the chance to play competitive cricket in the under 13, under 15, under 17 and under 19 age group,” she says.
Next year, established senior Inland player Marlene Steenkamp – who holds a sports science degree from North West University in Potchefstroom – will be assisting Epworth in several capacities, including cricket development.
Currently, the city’s top women cricket player is Cherri Cannon who was selected for SA A. However, injury has relegated Cannon, a bowler who can also bat, to the sidelines
Women cricketers have been participating in the 50 over format, and this year saw the introduction of the T20 format to give women more game time
The KZN Inland ladies recently lost both their 50 over provincial games to Griquas and Free State in a close encounter.
“It’s all part of the learning curve, and it gets really frustrating when you lose matches you should have won,” she says with a wry smile.
The frustrations notwithstanding, the Inland side boasts a sense of camaraderie, courtesy of being a close-knit group of women.
“We’re like a family at Inland, and our teams spirit is often remarked on by other provinces, says Nirghen, “we’re very proud of our unity”.
This sense of fun, albeit with a purpose, is a powerful motivator and incentive, according to Nirghen.
“We’d love for more women to join our family and we encourage women who are passionate about cricket to contact the KZN Inland Cricket Union on 033-342 2988,” she said.
Published in Maritzburg PULSE