IT started like any other day. Maina woke up and headed to class. The then senior four student concluded the day with a jog at the school’s play ground. As she went through the drills, she was summoned by the school cricket coach to join the rest of the team. Efforts to explain her self that she had never held a bat or played cricket fell on deaf ears.
“I was exercising in the school field; the girl’s cricket team coach mistook me for a cricket player. He called me to join the team, when I tried to explain to him that I was not a player he insisted and that is how I became a cricketer,” Mary Maina narrates.
This is how one of Rwanda’s best female cricketers ended up building a passionate bond with the game of cricket. Mary Maina represents the cream of female cricketers who hold the future of women cricket in Rwanda.
With the upcoming ‘UAE Exchange Money Express’ Women Cricket Tournament, it will be yet another opportunity for the female cricketers to showcase talent. Women Today’s Doreen Umutesi talked to Maina, who plays for the ‘White Clouds Cricket Club’ and Cathia Uwamahoro, a member of Charity Club, to talk about the sport, how it has gained popularity in Rwanda, their inspirations and the challenges they have faced.
Born on September 17, 1992 in Kenya, Maina started playing cricket in 2010 while at APRED Ndera Secondary School.
She says she has strong love for the sport. “I treasure this game and always reflect on the circumstances under which I joined the sport. I actually trained for three days with the school team and was instantly picked to be the captain of the team during the inter-schools competition. I encountered several challenges because I started playing the sport without knowing all the rules of the game. In other words, I learnt most of the rules of the game in the field during the inter-schools tournament.”
She says that at first she was also scared of the cricket ball given the fact that it’s very hard.
“I didn’t even know the history of the game as the captain of the team but it’s the cricket ball that always freaked me out. I always thought that if it hit me, it would cause great injury and it’s funny because in a few moments it hit me but I got minor injuries and that didn’t make me quit the sport,” Maina reveals.
She adds that being part of the U19 National Team that represented the country in Tanzania in 2011 inspired her into embracing the sport even more.
“I was happy about the trip and the game and I got to learn a lot from the 2011 tournament. But I am grateful to the local companies that have empowered us and introduced local tournaments for the women cricketers. This has greatly improved our skills in the sport,” Maina acknowledges.
Besides the inter-schools competitions that are held annually, the first female tournament was held in February 2013 under the name VR Naidu because it was sponsored by an Indian family known as Naidu. The White Clouds Club are the defending champions.
In September 2013, Maina is enrolling at the National University of Rwanda to pursue a Bachelor’s course in Pharmacy.
“As a child I always wanted to be a doctor to closely work with people and impact on their lives. Although I’m not going to offer medicine, I will ably serve people as a pharmacist. I will also continue playing cricket at university. I would also wish to encourage more girls to join cricket. It’s a gentle game and it’s the only game in sports where your opponent is your friend, even though you’re competing. Respect is encouraged all the time,” Maina reveals.
She continues, “The girls should not be scared of the bat because it is made of hard wood or that the ball is hard too. Cricket is very exciting.”
Currently there are about ten schools in Rwanda that have fully established the female cricket teams and six of these schools are based in Kigali.
Uwamahoro was also introduced to the sport in 2008 at the age of fifteen.
“I used to watch cricket on television and I didn’t understand what it was but one day I got to see people training at our school in Gikondo and I sat down and watched. I did this often and one day the coach asked me if I wanted to join and I accepted although I was a basketball player at the time,” Uwamahoro narrates.
She adds that she quit basketball to play cricket.
“Because of the love I gradually attained for cricket, I learnt the rules of the game pretty fast and I was able to play for the U19 National Team in Kenya in 2008. I was also able to play in 2010 and 2011 in Tanzania and I learnt a lot and gained more skills in all these region tournaments,” Uwamahoro explains.
She adds, “At first I didn’t like fielding because I was afraid of the ball hitting me but with time, I over came my fears and I can now field, bat and ball because it’s required as a team player.”
She reveals that her favourite local player is Andre Kayitera and internationally, she is inspired by the cricket legend Brian Lala.
Charles Haba, the President of the Rwanda Cricket Association, says that in Rwanda, cricket was first embraced in December 1999.
“We aggressively embarked on training female cricket players in 2006 and several women development programmes in the sport were embraced. We have taken on these programmes mainly through schools but also additionally we have started a women’s league. There are not many countries that have a structured women’s league,” Haba reveals.
Rwanda Cricket Association, the official cricket governing body in Rwanda, is a representative at the International Cricket Council and is an affiliate member. It attained its membership in 2003.
“Something else that is a bit unique is that every tournament that we have held, we have played a double-header for the girls. Basically what it means is that parallel to the boys competition, we have the women’s tournament and that applies even when we are going to seek sponsorship or during corporate events. This has had a positive impact on the women cricket teams.”
He adds that before, girls would go for the regional cricket women competitions and play well but as a result of lack of exposure, lose to different teams.
“Our biggest challenge is the lack of facilities because we have one main ground therefore we have to use it for both the women and men’s tournaments. The other challenges are not really big and we are happy that the girls love cricket,” Haba discloses.
He continues, “There is need to encourage women and girls to embrace cricket. Something I have learnt in cricket is that girls are not as demanding as the boys, yet the levels of output and levels of success come out quicker than the boys. I will give you practical examples of the fantastic experiences we have encountered with the girls. The boys tend to ask for so much because they are so hungry for overnight success and want to be professionals in the shortest time but the girls will just want to pick up the bat and the ball to go and play. They are always happy to wait for their opportunity to play, without letting the little challenges affect them.”
There are currently four established women cricket teams/clubs in Rwanda; Queens of Victory, Kigali Angels, Charity and White Clouds.
Eric Hirwa, the Cricket Female National Team coach, says that in the earlier days, the girls’ main challenge was their parents granting them permission to play cricket. But that is gradually changing.
“With the development of the sport and the popularity it has gained, we now encounter a few situations or no situations at all where a parent has refused a player to come for training. When the girls master the game, after a few months they make it a point to come for regular training. However transport from their home to the training grounds is the main challenge they currently face,” Hirwa explains.
He encourages parents to let their girls come for training since it helps them improve their skills.
“We currently have about 30-60 girls that can actually attend regional competitions. They are about 15-20 years old and most of them are students. It’s also amazing how the girls learn the game so fast and become very passionate about it. It’s always important for someone to first love the game to actually perfect their skills in the sport,” Hirwa reveals.
According to Hirwa, female cricket teams train every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 3pm in Kicukiro.