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The Proteas and Hilton Moreeng are a match made in heaven

The Proteas and Hilton Moreeng are a match made in heaven
South Africa celebrate after taking a wicket during the second ODI cricket match against Pakistan in Karachi on 11 September 2023. (Photo: BackpagePix/EPA-EFE)

When Hilton Moreeng took over as head coach of the Proteas Women, none of the players even had a contract. Now they’re one of the best teams in the world.

Proteas Women head coach Hilton Moreeng has seen it all. The man from Kimberley has been at the helm of the national side for nearly 11 years – since December 2012.

“Last year in December somebody actually said, ‘I’ve seen you’ve been on the job for so long’,” Moreeng told Daily Maverick.

“[Only then] I actually sat back and thought, you know, I didn’t even see that. I didn’t even realise because you’re so focused on the next tour, the next player, how we can improve as a team.”

A decade is a long period for one person to lead a national team (coaches usually only last one Cricket World Cup cycle, which is four years), especially when the proud cricketing nation wins no silver­ware during that person’s tenure.

But Moreeng, a former professional wicketkeeper-batter for Free State, is an exception. A month after taking the reins in 2012, he was thrust into a Cricket World Cup campaign in India. The side finished sixth out of eight teams. In Moreeng’s first assignment with the team, 10 days before the World Cup, he oversaw a 2-2 drawn ODI series against West Indies and a 2-0 T20 International series loss against them in the Caribbean.

Those signs of potential – in the West Indies and at the World Cup – from a side with almost no resources were what caught Moreeng’s eye and drove him.

Proteas Women head coach Hilton Moreeng has been at the helm of the national side for almost 11 years. (Photo: BackpagePix/EPA-EFE)

A slow start

The cricket season that recently got underway is the first season of professional domestic women’s cricket in SA. Though the Proteas have been fully professional since late 2014, every level of women’s cricket below that has been either amateur or semi professional.

“When I started, women’s cricket was still very amateur,” Moreeng said. “We had, at most, if we were lucky, one tour a year, and players would get a tour fee from that, depending on how they played, just to thank them for the tour.

“As far as assistant coaches [are concerned], I didn’t have any … We had a fitness trainer, an analyst and an ad hoc manager, but other than that, all responsibility was left to the office and the coach. And that was for about the first five to six years.”

Momentum, the team’s title sponsor, initially helped the national team to contract six players – at the time they were Mignon du Preez, Marcia Letsoalo, Dané van Niekerk, Shabnim Ismail, Marizanne Kapp and Trisha Chetty – but the other team members had to hold down part-time or full-time jobs.

“What we realised is that the gap between the … six [contracted players] and the rest of the squad was way too big,” the coach said.

“Because the six could at least – with what they were getting – give up their daily jobs and just focus on cricket, while the others still had to do their work — and, only after work, work on their skills.”

In April 2014, with a squad half-filled with amateurs and half-filled with fully professional players, South Africa reached the semifinal stage of the T20 World Cup – falling to fully professional England.

First major franchise

The next year, Australia launched the Women’s Big Bash League – the first major franchise women’s cricket competition. Ismail, Kapp, Van Niekerk and Du Preez were part of the inaugural competition.

The Proteas’ core being exposed to international quality at franchise level helped to improve the national team as well.

“You could see the results now that it started snowballing into the system. And even though we had the national system becoming very professional, domestically it was still continuing as the status quo,” Moreeng said.

“So there was no professionalism, coaches were not appointed [domestically], and I think it was a headache because players [went] home from [national] camps, where coaches [were] available, to nothing, because some provinces could only afford to appoint coaches for a season.

“So it was a struggle, and then eventually CSA [Cricket South Africa] [employed] coaches around the country and gave them full-time contracts to start working.

“Things started happening, and now plans could be put in place.”

The team now have a media manager, a batting, bowling and fielding coach, as well as full support staff. Resources for women’s cricket have grown substantially over the past 11 years in South Africa, and so have the expectations of success.

Long-awaited success

South Africa continued to find success on the field with these structures put in place. The Proteas made the 2017 and 2022 Cricket World Cup semifinals, and also reached the semifinal stage of the 2020 T20 World Cup.

The team finally broke their World Cup final duck this year when they finished as runners up in the T20 World Cup at home to champions Australia at Newlands Cricket Stadium in Cape Town.

“If you [had] told me that was going to happen at Newlands – people buying tickets to watch this team play – I would have laughed at you because of where we were and the resources that we had. It was extremely special, especially for the current crop that has started the journey, for them to be able to experience that on home soil, because home World Cups come with different pressures.

“To be able to rise above those challenges and achieve what the team has achieved was extremely special.” DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

DM168 front page 14 October

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