“Nobody needs to side hustle anymore.”
That’s Western Province Women’s Cricket captain Leah Jones’ frank assessment after the launch of the first-ever Cricket SA Women’s Professional League this week.
Jones, 21, led WP to the Cricket SA 1-Day Cup title last year, while her team also just missed out on the T20 Cup after falling to the Lions in the final game of last season.
However, the landscape has changed dramatically ahead of the 2023/24 season with both competitions now being fully professionalised. With assistance of R15 million from the national government, Cricket SA are set to contract 11 players per squad across six teams in Division 1.
Jones, who is also a third-year law student at the University of Western Cape, was previously one of a fortunate few outside of the Proteas Women's national team on a Cricket SA High Performance contract. But she believes the professionalism of the women’s game will be a game-changer for many of her teammates which will ultimately raise the overall standard.
“I started on a semi-pro contract in 2021, and then at the beginning of the year I was promoted to a Cricket SA HP contract. So, I’ve had some form of a contract for the past two years,” Jones told Independent Media on Wednesday.
“But now that it's fully professional, nobody needs that side hustle anymore to make ends meet. Players can now be fully focused on their cricket, and put those extra sessions in when required. Lots of players are students and others have part-time jobs just to keep playing, so it's always something we wanted. I think it's amazing.”
Professionalism of the women’s game does not only translate to money for the players, but also greater off-field support in terms of a permanent coaching setup consisting of a head coach and an assistant coach as well as a centralised system for physiotherapists and strength and conditioning coaches attending to each team.
Jones feels this will be the greatest benefit of the new professionalised structures.
"We have always seen the men’s teams have this support. And as women, we always thought it would be really nice to have,” she said.
“It shows how much women’s cricket has grown. Obviously, with having the physios and the S and C, and now you feel more professional. We were always working towards that goal.”
Western Province will compete with the Lions, Titans, Dolphins, Garden Route Badgers, and newcomers Free State in Division 1 with a new combined prize money pot for the respective winners of the two competitions in the 2023/24 season.