Wicketkeeper Sinalo Jafta soars to new heights after recently hitting rock bottom
Proteas wicketkeeper Sinalo Jafta took part in a memorable World Cup final after nearly quitting cricket.
South Africa’s 19-run loss in the final of the Women’s T20 World Cup on 26 February was instrumental for cricket in the country. It was the first time a senior international side – men or women – had made the final of a World Cup in any format.
The Proteas squad was filled with players who had been dreaming about the moment their whole lives, some of whom had suffered three consecutive World Cup semifinal defeats.
But wicketkeeper Sinalo Jafta had considered, just four months prior to the final at Newlands in Cape Town, quitting the sport completely.
She had booked herself into a rehabilitation centre to help inhibit a drinking problem, brought on by incessant social media ridicule.
“Going in [for treatment] was for my own personal wellbeing. It was not about cricket; it was not about anything. It was just about me being a better version of myself,” Jafta told Daily Maverick.
“I had a few reservations about whether I’ll still be able to play cricket because, where I was back then [in October], it was just to save my life.
“I’m grateful for going because I learned so much about who I am. It was all about personal growth and putting the bottle down.”
Jafta has since been vocal on social media about her struggles with addiction in order to help other people who are struggling.
“Me saying, ‘I hit rock bottom, and look where I am now’, says to the next person that, even if they’re struggling now, it doesn’t mean it’s the end,” Jafta explained. “If you ask for help you will receive it, but if you keep quiet no one can help you out.
“Me speaking out about where I was tells the next person, ‘It’s okay, you’re not alone.’”
Improving mental health
The pressure of being in the public eye and under constant scrutiny began after the Commonwealth Games in England in July and August last year, when the Proteas failed to exit their group.
Jafta identified the problem herself in the months after the Commonwealth Games and explained to the national team’s management that she would be taking time out from the sport to improve her mental health.
“I spoke to [management] on 7 October 2022 and it was set in stone that I’d go in the following week, on the 14th,” she said.
“From that day, I just remember coach Hilton Moreeng saying, ‘You know, Jaffie, we’re going to be here with you through and through.’
“While I was inside [the rehabilitation centre], my emergency contact was actually the team doctor and she was talking to my mom and whoever needed to know.
“In the eight weeks I was there, I obviously didn’t know what was happening on the outside. They took everything, including my phone.
“For now, it’s one day at a time. I can’t think about what’s going to happen tomorrow. But, looking back, I never felt isolated or not part of the team.”
The World Cup dream
South Africa went into the World Cup high on confidence after beating India and West Indies in a tri-series immediately before the start of the tournament.
Coach Hilton has this saying: “‘On our best day, no team can play against us.’ That’s how good we are,” Jafta said.
But in the opening encounter the Proteas suffered a shock three-run loss against Sri Lanka.
“In my mind, I kept saying ‘one day at a time’ because I’m fresh out of recovery. My outlet to losing games is always having that drink,” Jafta said.
“So now my attitude is, whatever happens, happens because it’s a journey.
“The team worked extremely hard for it, each and every person worked extremely hard. Obviously a few players missed out, but they worked equally hard.”
Despite the slow start, the Proteas women still achieved the greatest World Cup performance by the country.
“It was such a roller coaster. Some people counted us out after the first match, but we just stood tall and said it’s a home World Cup, when are we ever going to get such an opportunity to play at home in front of your family and in front of a packed stadium,” Jafta added.
“I remember Ayabonga, in the change room of the semifinal against England that morning, said to me, ‘I can’t be Ayabonga Khaka semifinalist. Can you please just add finalist behind my name?’”
Sticks or bats
Being a World Cup finalist is an achievement Jafta wears proudly, but a few years earlier she almost played in a World Cup in a completely different sport.
“I started playing hockey when I was in Grade 2. I played SA Schools from Grade 10 and then, in Grade 11 and 12, too.
“Then I moved over to North-West University, where I played first team. I was in the Varsity Cup hockey squad for two years.
“I played the SA premier hockey league for two years and then I was also in the national women’s squad for the World Cup in 2016/17 before I retired from hockey in 2017.”
Jafta alternated between right link and striker on the astroturf, which has helped her to perfect the wristy flicks behind square that she often deploys to spinners when batting.
Playing both hockey and cricket while growing up, as well as focusing a lot of attention on athletics, meant Jafta’s academic studies fell by the wayside somewhat. It is something her single mother, a former teacher, did not appreciate.
“My mom believes a lot in academics, but I just wanted to play sports,” she said.
“I don’t think she realised how serious it was until I signed my national contract in 2019.
“She was all about school, but luckily my younger brother took over that role, so my mom is more at peace.
“I always tell my brother he has to take one for the team because there’s no hope for me academically,” she joked.
“It was really nice to see how proud she was during the World Cup and I don’t think I could ever replace those memories.” DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.