Women getting into cricket, journalist, commentator or player, will always have questions surrounding them without the intent of being helpful.
I will never forget the day I went to fetch my cricket tickets from an outlet in Johannesburg when the salesperson told me that as a girl, I should be buying tickets for a Chris Brown concert and that “it is weird for a girl to be interested in cricket.” It wasn’t the first time I’d heard it and it certainly won’t be the last.
If you missed my profile photo, I am a black and female and I am do not fit the profile of your typical cricket fan. The look on people’s faces when I tell them I have an interest in the sport goes from surprise to a very common, “I can’t stand the sport – it’ so boring” or even better, “you watch those tall, lanky, white men bowl for eight hours by choice? Why?”.
I’ve been a cricket fan since I was 13 years old and I think I know enough to fill in for Kass Naidoo in short bursts even though I’ve never played the game. My older sister, a meterologist by profession, explained the the game to me very early on and it took only twenty minutes later that I found myself screaming at the TV as South Africa dropped a crucial catch in a tight Test match.
The so-called middle-aged white man’s sport is introduced today to more black people in underdeveloped areas in order to develop the game at grassroots levels.
In 2016, former sports minister Fikile Mbalula revoked the athletics, cricket, netball and rugby federations from bidding or hosting national competitions until transformation targets were met. The targets, referred to as quotas, required that athletics, rugby, netball, and cricket teams had to field a total of 60% players of colour (what exactly does this phrase mean?). In cricket this meant that the national side had to have at least six players – with two being African.
At the time, SA Cricket Magazine believed that the Proteas would have no problem meeting the these targets, granted the players were selected on merit.
The quotas were met, the team was constituted and even qualified for the world cup exceeding the targets quickly. But an unintentional side-effect of the system has meant that almost every black player has had to justify that their selection has not been on the basis of their skin colour but their abilities.
Every single time a match or series goes wrong, the “quota players” are blamed for the loss.
While this seemed to only affect players, it affected fans as well. I had witnessed a growth in people of colour coming out to support the Proteas at games, and an improved understanding of the game and its technicalities. On Twitter, black people found a space to openly discuss their starting line-ups in a quest for approval, disapproval and discussion. Regardless of race and gender, discussions online were easier among a diverse group of South African cricket fans.
Offline though, my experience of telling people I was a very big cricket fan was not as well received.
“What online article did you hear that from?” or “how did you make that observation?” would be reaction to the comments I made. I found out quickly that telling men in particular about my passion for and knowledge about ‘their’ sport is a way of putting myself at risk of an anger-driven heart attack.
The media space is no better. There are few black female presenters or commentators in sport. This leaves very little room for other black females to find role models to relate to and even to speak to.
Two women in cricket who come to mind in terms of reporting and engaging with others are ESPNCricInfo South African correspondent Firdose Moonda, and Naidoo, a cricket commentator and founder of gSport.
Recently, cricket analysis talk show Inside Edge which broadcasts on Supersport brought in former 5FM and current Mix FM presenter Poppy Ntshongwana. She was also announced as the first-ever female stadium announcer at the Wanderers Stadium, also known as ‘The Bullring’, in May 2019. The Central Gauteng Lions communications officer, speaking to News24, said this move was part of welcoming more women to cricket.
In many ways, one could say that the sudden flood of women into the behind the scenes,set up of cricket is a forced one, and similar to that of transformation targets being implemented. However, I think this is the progression and recognition long overdue: that this sport is not reserved for one gender. There are certain female cricket teams that out-perform their male counterparts at times, but their sometimes poor performances are often put down to their gender.
As a woman with a deep interest in cricket, I will always be scrutinised on what I know about the sport by critical male sports fans. As a black woman, I will be asked more for my opinion of transformation targets being implemented than on recent match performances or statistics.
The stereotype It will stick around like a bad smell, but I will embrace it for the love of cricket!
FEATURED IMAGE: Wits Vuvuzela student journalist, Khomotso Makgabutlane, looking semi-professional next to her cricket twitter handle. Photo: File.