Photo Credit: Cricket South Africa
The streets of the tiny Phalaborwa township, set in the Northern tip of Limpopo are always awash with the young playing soccer – regarded as the most infrastructure and gear-economic sporting code. Yet there are those who yearned to partake in a sport that responds to their passion and competitive edge.
The zeal to be challenged and give expression to meaning kindled the love of cricket in Matshipi Marcia Letsoalo. At the tender age of thirteen, when her peers had trouble finding their spot in sport, Letsoalo was already in the field throwing the cricket ball around.
Letsoalo refused to be deterred by the social construct that obtained at the time, which scorned on women playing cricket. Her thirst for accomplishment could only be quenched by seeing herself playing cricket.
“In those days women were discouraged from playing cricket as it was seen as an exclusive men’s sport. I broke ranks with those stereotypes and decided that if there are no women playing cricket, I’d go and play with men,” reminisced Letsoalo.
She joined a local cricket club (Foskor Cricket Club) where she was its only female member and never flinched at the gender disparity. “I played with the likes of Mandla Mashimbyi and Ethy Mbhalati and today still cherish the experience,” recalls Letsoalo.
The spoils began to yield. In the year 2000 she was drafted into the provincial U19 team representing Limpopo. Yet the bug for growth gnawed on her to aspire for more – to ply her game at a higher level.
Ethy Mbhalati, who was with the Northern Cricket Union at the time, persuaded Letsoalo to pasture for growth prospects in Pretoria. Ever calculative, Letsoalo saw reason in amalgamating her Management Diploma studies at Tshwane North College with seeking playing opportunities.
“While studying, I joined the Atteridgeville Women’s Cricket Club, and in 2005 won the Player of the Year accolade. Juggling between my studies and playing cricket put a strain on my finances as I had to raise transport money to Atteridgeville,” she confessed. To obviate the challenge and raise funds, Letsoalo started coaching the U13 and U16 buddying women cricketers. Proteas Women Delmi Tucker is one of her U13 proteges.
“It is in those coaching episodes that I developed the love to share my skills with emerging talent. These youngsters displayed such a pulpable zeal to play the game which was impossible to ignore. I committed myself to hone their skills and grow their wings so they could fly and become women cricketers of the future. It was such a fulfilling emotional proposition, which I carry to this day,” tearily said Letsoalo.
As if rewarding her new-found passion for development, good fortune followed. In 2006, Karen Smithies, who was coach at the time, invited her for trials at the Northern Cricket Union.
According to Letsoalo, the prospect of wearing the “daisy shirt” (Titans apparel) was exhilarating as much as it was intimidating. Yet it was the opportunity that she has been waiting for to flex her game, scale new heights and challenge new horizons.
And she was ready. Letsoalo passed her trials with flying colours, was enlisted on the Titans Women’s team, and as a cherry on top, won the Player of the Year crown in that season (2006). She even coached the Northern Cricket Unions’ U13, U16 and U19 teams. The skies had opened for Letsoalo, and there was no going back. Her determination and appetite to stamp her authority as a powerhouse in women’s cricket was at the highest crescendo. She was beating her own drum. She was unstoppable.
“In 2006, when the call-up to trial for the Proteas Women’s team came, it found me waiting and ready to wear the coveted jersey and serve my beloved country,” said Letsoalo. In 2007 she joined the Proteas Women’s team and became a formidable arsenal in its bowling department. She was to make history by becoming the first black African in the setup. Her highlight was taking three wickets in a nail-biting contest against Pakistan in 2007. “The first wicket just drove me to deliver more. It was like I was in a trance,” she quipped.
Between 2007 and 2017, Letsoalo appeared in two Test matches, 68 One-Day Internationals and 48 Twenty20 Internationals for South Africa.
“Everything happened so fast that I couldn’t even find the time to pinch myself. It was so sublime. Our first tour, and my first time out of the country, was to the West Indies. Bangladesh, England, Australia, India, Sri Lanka, and the Netherlands later, I count myself lucky to have been able to represent my country. I made friendships around the world which are enduring to this day. I learnt a lot from my team-mates and my experiences with them will remain indelible” testified Letsoalo.
There were lighter moments too. “On a tour to the West Indies, myself and team-mates Dinesha Devanarain and Trisha Chetty scoffed at the proposition that we apply sunscreen, relying on the endurance of our skins. However, the Caribbean heat humbled us: we got busy scavenging for the next available suncream,” Letsoalo bellowed in laughter at the memory.
After an illustrious cricket-playing career, Letsoalo crossed-over to administration. She joined Cricket South Africa’s Centre of Excellence (COE) in 2018 as a women’s cricket administrator. Her decision was fuelled by the desire to give back and continue her trajectory to empower the growth of women’s cricket in South Africa.
Letsoalo represented South Africa as part of the all-female management team at the inaugural ICC U19 Women’s Cricket World Cup that the country hosted from 14 to 29 January 2023.
“Women’s cricket is in transition, a transition for the better. In our days, women’s cricket was not broadcast on television, now it is. There were no contracts for women cricketers at the time; now there are. It is equally important for our women cricketers to reciprocate the privileges and gains made by showing up.
“I want to be there to assist the process: to inspire young women cricketers to aspire to become the next generation of excellence in the game. I want them to be ready when they receive that call-up for national duty,” declared Letsoalo.
Of her own success, Letsoalo, also dubbed the mother of the “repetition until perfection” philosophy said: “Getting to where I got was not easy. It took the proverbial blood, sweat and tears. I dug deep into the armoury of my soul, took a serious walk around myself, and determined that cricket would be my lifeblood. My story is that of determination, resilience, grit, and sheer love for the game,” she concluded.