Charlotte Serwadi’s interest for the game was sparked by a Bakers Mini Cricket festival when she was just six, at Masingita Primary School, and it is a passion that has seen her go on to play, then develop a keen interest in other aspects that are integral to the sport.
Serwadi is now the Cricket Services Manager at Northerns Cricket Union, serving as an important conduit between the playing field and the administration. She has never forgotten how the seed of cricket was planted, however, and hopes that more and more women with a passion for the game can also find a path into the structures.
“Mrs Vuma was the teacher who was coaching Mini Cricket, and she was also member at Mamelodi Cricket Club, where she managed the Mamelodi Girls & Women’s Cricket . I played Mini Cricket until the age of 10, when I was invited to a girls practice at Mamelodi Oval. I was very excited, because I knew I would be training with my older sister, who had started playing two years before me,” Serwadi recalled.
It wasn’t straightforward, and because of financial constraints, she and her sister would walk 6km to and from the ground, to train twice a week. But it was worth it, because the cricket bug had bitten.
As she surveys the cricket landscape now, Serwadi is well aware that there is still a long way for the game to walk, in terms of access and opportunity.
“We grew up knowing that cricket is a very expensive sport and I knew if want to continue playing I’d have to do it by myself, because my family couldn’t afford to buy me equipment.”
It is a reality for many who are introduced to the game innocently, and that initial barrier keeps many would be cricketers away. For Serwardi, her promise saw her play for Northerns from Under-13 right through to the Academy, where she and Yolandi Bronkhorst were the first two women’s cricketers to be part of the intake.
“That was where I learned to work with men and got to understand their world. It made me a better cricketer indeed, but unfortunately not quite good enough to crack a spot in the Women’s Protea squad!” she joked.
Those were long days, because Academy dictated that there were academic classes until 2pm, and she then had to rely on her brother Edward Khoza (also still involved in the game) for transport, once he had finished work. She would spend those hours waiting wisely, volunteering in the Northerns offices, filing and compiling club cricket statistics, and getting familiar with the systems used.
Her good intentions did not go unnoticed, and ultimately led to bigger things. “On our last day of the Academy Mr Frost, who was the Cricket Services Manager, called me into his office and asked me to come and see him the next Monday, and to bring my CV,” Serwadi remembers.
Mr Frost also told her to ‘leave that cap at home’, and that was how her journey within the structures of the Northerns Cricket Union started.
It is a tale of passion meeting opportunity, and she remains very grateful of the door that opened. Serwardi has risen through the ranks, and now holds the position that Mr Frost once held. In that time, she has also seen the women’s game advance dramatically.
“Back then, people were surprised when I told them I play cricket. Women’s cricket wasn’t popular then, so Cricket South Africa and the ICC must be commended for the progress and the effort made to get the game to where it is today,” Serwadi pointed out.
“Players gets contracted now, like the men, and the interest and the growth is tremendous. During my playing days, we never had a white ball competition at provincial level. There was a big shift in 2009, and the women’s game is in a far better place now.”
Despite the advancements, Serwadi says there is always room for improvement, and points to the massive gap between men and women in pay, as well as increasing the awareness around the women’s game. With South Africa scheduled to host the next Women’s World Cup, she is confident that there will be more done for the game domestically.
“As much as women’s cricket is growing swiftly, it’s still not where we would like it be. Players are only contracted at international level and the number of contracts offered are not equal to the Proteas men’s side,” she pointed out.
“We will continue to work hard and try to promote women’s cricket until players are contracted at provincial level like the men’s game. I know CSA is working very hard in this regard,” she added hopefully.
Like the rest of the country, Northerns were hit hard by the ongoing pandemic, and Serwadi explained that the past few months have been some of the most challenging of her career.
“Everything I know and learned to this point was through observing the people I looked up to as my mentors and from courses I have done to better myself. But none of these courses could have prepared any of us to deal with what is happening in the world today,” she smiled.
“The pandemic is something we have never experienced as a country, and the Covid-19 virus has brought everything to a stand-still. It’s been very tough, but the culture of this company helps me deal with the pressure. The support from my team, superiors, stakeholders and the board has been tremendous. I’ve realised I have so much backing and support and it makes things a lot easier for me to work knowing I do not have to do everything on my own,” she said of her working environment within the Northerns.
Beyond the pandemic lockdown, she looks forward to the cricket machine clicking back into gear, and to have the usual interactions around the game.
“I have made a lot of friends throughout my journey, and I can proudly say I do not regret the choices I made to get involved in this beautiful game,” she said with a smile that the six-year old girl who fell in love with the sport would be happy to see.
The journey that she has taken thus far has been more than worth it, but she hopes there is still much more to come.