Rais­ibe a ris­ing tal­ent

Ntozakhe brings the un­known to a Proteas women’s team aim­ing high

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - STUART HESS

RAIS­IBE Ntozakhe’s team­mates call her ‘Slice’ on ac­count of her size – which is, well, small.

“Ja, you know, like a slice,” laughs Chloe Tryon, while indicating with her thumb and fore­fin­ger.

Good na­tured rib­bing is key to en­sur­ing a good team spirit and Ntozakhe, just 20 and hav­ing only made her international de­but a month ago, is happy to em­brace her moniker.

“The team is very wel­com­ing, I never thought you could get such love from se­nior play­ers, they guide you through the ex­pe­ri­ence,” smiled Ntozakhe, who grew up in Alexan­dra, dream­ing of rep­re­sent­ing Banyana Banyana.

“It’s been a very ex­cit­ing ride for me, dur­ing the quad­ran­gu­lar se­ries in Potchef­stroom last month and at this (train­ing) camp.”

Tryon ad­mits, Ntozakhe is a bit of a ‘bolter’ – a sur­prise se­lec­tion – that adds even fur­ther di­ver­sity to SA’s well rounded at­tack. Ntozakhe, an off-spin­ner, counts Indian skip­per Mithali Raj as one of her two international wick­ets.

“Get­ting that call to say that I was go­ing to play in the quad­ran­gu­lar se­ries felt like a dream,” she said. “I was so ec­static and thank­ful that all my hard work was fi­nally pay­ing off.

“While I was hop­ing that a tour would open other doors for me in the fu­ture, I never imag­ined that a call-up for the World Cup was on the cards.”

“This is ac­tu­ally a mas­sive op­por­tu­nity for me. It’s some­thing I’ve al­ways wanted since I started cricket when I was six. When I got the call up, it showed my hard work was pay­ing off, from provin­cial cricket to now get­ting se­lected. I’m look­ing for­ward to play­ing against the world’s best – Aus­tralia, New Zealand and Eng­land.”

Ntozakhe stum­bled into cricket. While play­ing foot­ball at pri­mary school, she no­ticed boys walk­ing past the field where she played car­ry­ing “big bags” and was in­trigued. It turned out they were pre­par­ing for a mini-cricket ses­sion. Ntozakhe asked to join in and got hooked.

“Soc­cer was my dream, I ac­tu­ally wanted to play for Banyana Banyana and now this has hap­pened, and I’m play­ing for the Proteas ... I joined mini­cricket at pri­mary school, I found I had the pas­sion for it, loved it from the first mo­ment, I grew up to that and never looked back to soc­cer.”

As a kid she had to play with the boys team at the Alexan­dra Cricket Club be­cause there wasn’t a girls team at age-group level at the club. The Gaut­eng Cricket Board ar­ranged for her to play for Kag­iso Cricket Club – sit­u­ated 45km west of Alex – which had a women’s team, which Ntozakhe now cap­tains.

Ntozakhe at­tributes much of her lat­ter suc­cess to the Gaut­eng Women’s coach John­son Mafa. “He’s worked very hard with me,” she re­vealed.

Her 15 wick­ets in 10 matches for Gaut­eng in the Women’s Provin­cial League brought her to the se­lec­tors’ at­ten­tion. “I def­i­nitely en­joyed my cricket this past sea­son,” she com­mented. “I’ve been work­ing re­ally hard with coach (Mafa) to make sure that I’m at my best ev­ery time. He’s def­i­nitely one of the peo­ple I at­tribute reach­ing this point in my ca­reer to.”

Rather than just be a squad mem­ber, Ntozakhe is look­ing to make an im­pact in Eng­land and has bought into her team­mates’ think­ing that they are ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing some­thing spe­cial over the next few weeks in Eng­land.

“Our ex­pec­ta­tions are to play well as a unit, show a lot of char­ac­ter on the field. And bring the World Cup tro­phy home.”

For many play­ers, the World Cup is a pin­na­cle in their ca­reers, but this does feel very much like the start of the jour­ney for Ntozakhe.

“I’ve thought about (an international ca­reer), I never thought it would hap­pen at this age,” she re­marked. “It shows if you have po­ten­tial and you work hard enough then things like this will ac­tu­ally hap­pen. International cricket was my dream, it’s fi­nally here.

“I’m not willing to give up this spot, I’m go­ing to do the best I can so I can stay here for the next 10 years. If I work hard, as I al­ways do, put in the hours, then I’ll keep go­ing for­ward.

“You’ll see more of me.”

BACKPAGE P IX

LIK­ING IT LOOSE: Siya Kolisi cel­e­brates with team­mate­safter scor­ing against France in Dur­ban.

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