South Africans obsess over the Springboks, Bafana Bafana and the Proteas in a way that everything else almost ceases to exist, and it takes something spectacular from a Caster Semenya, a Chad le Clos, or a Wayde van Niekerk to make us remember there are actually other sporting pursuits.
The unveiling of the SA Women’s team was a colourful affair at the headquarters of the team’s main sponsor Momentum this week. It’s very rare these days for a sponsorship to show the kind of care and involvement as Momentum have with the Women’s Proteas, and it is something all the players genuinely cherish.
Were it not for Momentum, there wouldn’t be any full-time contracts and the players would not be able to devote themselves to this quest, nor achieve the levels of excellence they have in the last two years.
The fact that there are so many players ranked in the top 20 among bowlers, batters and all-rounders is a testimony to the support Momentum has provided, and to the hard work put in by a number of officials within Cricket SA.
“What’s happened is that with the support of Momentum and CSA over the past few years, we’ve played more games, gone on more tours, that’s what we needed all along,” said Marizanne Kapp, the World’s No 1 bowler.
“In the past we didn’t have that, but you look at last year, we played 32 ODIs. That’s the main reason, it’s exciting that (the Women’s World Cup) will be televised because I don’t think the public know how talented the ladies really are.
“You see Shibby (Shabnim Ismail) bowl and she’s really quick, and people are surprised when they see that, the same with Dané (van Niekerk), Chloe (Tryon) and Lizelle (Lee) and how far they can hit the ball, it’s good to see it will be on television, and I think we’ll surprise a few people,” Kapp explained.
At the same time, there have been major efforts made elsewhere to try and raise the profile of the women’s game – the ICC have included the women’s World T20 even to run parallel to the men’s, and this year the Women’s World Cup, which will be held in England from June 24 to July 23, will carry total prize-money of $2 million (R25.74 million).
In addition, the English and Australian boards have also established domestic T20 Leagues too – the English played the inaugural Super League last year, while the Women’s Big Bash in Australia made a significant impact there in the last two summers.
For the likes of SA captain Van Niekerk and Kapp, who’ve both played in those competitions, the exposure has been significant in accelerating their development as players.
“The initiatives are amazing,” said Van Niekerk. “I’ve been very lucky to be part of the Super League and the Big Bash. You learn other things and play with some of the best players in the world. You learn what they do, bring it home and try and integrate that. It’s closing the gap (in the women’s game).”
Narrowing the gap, as Van Niekerk puts it, between England and Australia and the rest is crucial for the growth of the game. Those two countries have dominated the sport internationally, but lately the likes of New Zealand, the West Indies, India and South Africa have shown they are no longer going to be walked over.
The West Indies, inspired by the brilliant Stafanie Taylor, won the Women’s World T20 in India last year, defeating Australia in the final, which was a huge step for the sport in terms of widening its appeal.
Like Van Niekerk and Kapp, Taylor too has played in the Big Bash, and the exposure she has gotten through playing in that competition has helped refine her talent too.
“It’s been brilliant, a really good experience. Those competitions are really strong,” Kapp said.
She and Van Niekerk play for the Sydney Sixers, who won the tournament last season, alongside Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy, two of Australia’s best players.
“It helped me learn to play with different people. You can see how diverse our SA team is, so that’s been good. Hopefully we can get more of our team playing in those leagues because I think it helps your cricket enormously, it’s a big stage as well, which is good for your game.”