Eng­land a ‘Slice’ of heaven for Rais­ibe

Rags-to-riches jour­ney from Alex to World Cup for young off-spin­ner who’s liv­ing the crick­eter’s dream

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - ICC-CRICKET.COM

ON her de­but for South Africa in May this year, Rais­ibe Ntoza­khe be­came Jhu­lan Goswami’s 181st vic­tim, mak­ing the In­dian pace bowler the high­est wicket-taker in women’s one-day in­ter­na­tion­als.

There is, how­ever, more to the jovial Ntoza­khe, who has so far played five matches, than that. The way she en­dured the chal­lenges of grow­ing up in Alexan­dra in Johannesburg to be­come the first in­ter­na­tional crick­eter from there is a story Proteas cap­tain Dane van Niek­erk calls in­spir­ing and an ex­am­ple of chas­ing dreams.

The fourth of five sib­lings, Ntoza­khe, 20, lost her fa­ther when she was four. Her mother and grand­mother en­sured the kids “never went to bed hun­gry and were dress­ing up, eat­ing, go­ing to school and cel­e­brat­ing festivals”.

Fam­ily sup­port pro­tected Ntoza­khe from the bad things in her sur­round­ings. Sport also played a big part. She was a striker in foot- ball but shifted to cricket at the age of six on see­ing the boys play­ing at school. When she rep­re­sented Gaut­eng in age-group cricket at 10, her team­mates nick­named her “Slice” be­cause “I was a bit tinier than I am right now”.

Van Niek­erk is glad for the nick­name be­cause she strug­gles to pro­nounce the off-spin­ner’s name and sur­name. “I have known her since she was a bit taller than what she is now!” Van Niek­erk adds for good mea­sure. “I don’t think she has grown in the last 10 years or some­thing.”

But Ntoza­khe has grown in stature, not only as a crick­eter but also as a coach re­spon­si­ble for groom­ing young girls for the last two years. Await­ing re­sults of her sports administration and coach­ing course from the Gaut­eng Cricket Board (GCB), she wants to do a Level 2 de­gree in coach­ing.

“Grow­ing up in a town­ship, you go through a lot of things. You see drug ad­dicts, thieves, guys hit­ting girls, abu­sive re­la­tion­ships, and neigh­bours scream­ing at night. There is a lot go­ing on,” she said. RAIS­IBE NTOZA­KHE

“That type of back­ground is where you ac­tu­ally build your­self more in terms of how you want to build your fu­ture. You want to stay with how quasi-men­tal­ity works or you want to be a bet­ter per­son your­self. It built me into ac­tu­ally be­ing aware of my sur­round­ings, pro­tect­ing my­self at some point and pick­ing who to trust and who not to trust.”

De­spite her mother and grand­mother be­ing around her, Ntoza­khe fell into bad com­pany and was sus­pended by the GCB for three months when she was 17 for breach­ing the code of con­duct. That was the turn­ing point of her life, she ad­mits.

“In those three months, I got to re­group and de­cide what I need out of life. I was lucky that I got back to play­ing. The sce­nario which I am not al­lowed to re­veal gave me a chance to re­flect on life.”

She is grate­ful to her mother and grand­mother for teach­ing her to be hum­ble and re­spect­ful, and be­liev­ing in her abil­ity even though it was weird to be the only girl play­ing cricket while grow­ing up. But the pain of not hav­ing her fa­ther around is still tan­gi­ble.

“The whole death broke me, it re­ally got to me, es­pe­cially in pri­mary school when you get Fa­ther’s Day. Even to­day, I don’t re­ally stand by it,” she says, chok­ing up.

“I hate it. It just digs up a big hole in your heart. I lost him when I was very young. At times, you need a fa­ther to whom you can go to in cir­cum­stances. You think, ‘if he would have been here, things would have turned up this way’. But yeah, it’s God’s world. There is noth­ing I can do about it. As you grow up, ac­cep­tance is the key.” Cricket gave her peo­ple she could trust, yet the rough ex­pe­ri­ences of the past have not al­lowed Ntoza­khe to com­pletely open up to her SA team­mates.

“The team en­vi­ron­ment is very good,” she says. “You get peo­ple who are gelling at the mo­ment. There is com­pe­ti­tion but they are all one. It be­comes eas­ier to come out. But for some­one like me, I don’t find it that easy to ac­tu­ally ex­press my­self. So at the mo­ment I am a bit of a loner, but I do have peo­ple who I go to, can speak to and am com­fort­able with.”

Van Niek­erk says even though Ntoza­khe is an in­tro­vert, her big­gest strength is that she is open to learn­ing and al­ways asks ques­tions.

“She bowls 10 overs in ev­ery train­ing ses­sion and wants to get bet­ter,” the skip­per adds. “You can see she is hun­gry to be here and rep­re­sent the badge. Hope­fully she can get a World Cup de­but go­ing in.”

This ICC Women’s World Cup is much more for Ntoza­khe than just ful­fill­ing the sim­ple am­bi­tion of be­ing in the squad. She calls her be­ing in Eng­land within months of her in­ter­na­tional de­but a “mir­a­cle”. This is her first me­dia in­ter­ac­tion and she be­lieves the world will hear more about her in the fu­ture.

“De­spite my back­ground, I am very young. The World Cup is a big learn­ing curve for me. I am learn­ing each and ev­ery day as I am watch­ing the game,” says Ntoza­khe, who con­sid­ers Mut­tiah Mu­ralitha­ran her idol.

“Wear­ing the cap, that’s a huge hon­our. I wanted to play for South Africa and have a jer­sey num­ber. It’s al­ways been a dream and now I have it. I now have to work harder to stay here for the next 10 years. You will see more of me, this is not the last time you are (talk­ing to me).”

Not a bad goal for Alexan­dra’s first in­ter­na­tional crick­eter.

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