UFH - Cricket - Women's team (FSC)

When the coach of the University of Fort Hare women’s cricket team took stock of his player pool at first practice last year he had no idea that he was about to embark on an incredulous journey with a fairy tale ending.

It was mid-2022 and the red-ball season was about to get underway. The only hiccup was that the eager faces staring at him in anticipation were a mixed bag of current and future talent.

While some had good cricket credentials, others would be venturing onto the pitch for the very first time. The surplus – well, they had never competed in any sport before signing up for duty.

While the Cricket South Africa Academy based at Fort Hare accommodated women, there was no club team.

A slightly bemused coach Lukhanyo Hanabe would have to mould his new charges into a unit that would become the first to represent the university at this level.

The inaugural Border women’s premier league loomed and Fort Hare needed to put out a team – for better or worse.

Lifting the trophy after winning all eight of their matches was a surreal but satisfying moment for the team’s mentor.

Hanabe, who is also assistant coach of the UFH Forties men’s premier league team, explained that that first batch of players had mostly been drawn from those “who had expressed interest in cricket” at the institution’s orientation day.

UFH - Cricket - Women's team (FSC)

Members of Fort Hare’s all-conquering Border premier league side are, back from left, Mbali Dyantyi, Anothando Thuthiwe, Apiwe Thengwa, Liyema Jubati, Zizipho Gqwetha, Siyolise Fawuli, Solulele Luntu Mniki, Oyama Gxumisa, Inathi Mbete, Andile Nketshane, and front, Sesona Mjuza, Bakholise Sigonyela, Sinobom Fadana, Lukhanyo Hanabe, Sisipho Siswana, Jongile Kilani, Sango Mini and Ayanda Khanya Nkonzo. Photo: Full Stop Communications

This assignment would turn out to be one of his toughest as several of the students needed to be taught such basics as batting, bowling, fielding and running between the wickets “from scratch”.

He was understandably nervous when they were drawn to face red-hot title favourites Alice CC in their league opener. He need not have been.

The women surprised all and sundry by notching up their first ever win in their debut outing. From there, they swept all comers aside to lift the trophy at the end of the season, marking the arrival of women’s cricket at Fort Hare in emphatic style.

Hanabe attributed their slightly unusual march to the top to nothing but hard work. As a batting coach first and foremost, he had spent hours upon hours in the nets teaching proper technique to enhance the players’ shot-making abilities.

Now, just over 12 months later, the vibe at practice is very different as the current champions will no doubt be the team to beat when the 2023/24 season gets underway this month.

The squad will be without four players who have moved on for various reasons, including star Kwanga Pinini who is now with the Dolphins Academy in KwaZulu-Natal.

It has required a significant rebuild, but Hanabe said this season’s crop were looking excellent.

Batting all-rounder Sisipho Siswana, who has represented Border, will lead the side.

Pre-season training has not been easy as heavy rains often scuppered the opportunity of playing outdoors. Exams had also interfered and the coach hoped that the Border Cricket Union would be able to reschedule some of their matches.

Despite such setbacks, he was confident that they had every chance of successfully defending their title. After all, there were no googlies to deal with this time around.