Amongst the many faces around the Titans, there is one that has been around for a lot longer than most.
In what is predominantly a man’s world, Karen Smithies has carved out a niche for herself in the team management, making herself a much loved part of the furniture.
“It’s been such a privilege to have been with the Titans for 15 years,” the woman affectionately known as ‘Kaz’ said.
With it being Women’s Month, the Titans are celebrating the wonderful women within the game, as they continue to pave a path for themselves and open doors that were previously deemed the preserve of males.
“Sadly I feel that opportunities for women in senior management level within cricket structures are extremely limited and something I hope will change in the future. It is imperative to recognise and get ex-women cricketers in South Africa involved in the game at all levels, “she challenged.
“These people are pioneers of the women’s game in this country, and deserve a lot more credit then they get. Basically, more women should be involved in the women’s game.”
Reflecting on her own journey in the game, Smithies was given her chance by another female icon within the South African structures.
“I was offered the opportunity by the late Mrs Elise Lombard, who was CEO. Sadly, she passed away on Womens Day in 2012. She encouraged me to use my cricketing experience as well as giving me confidence in my role and within a ‘mans world’. For a large part, I think I have done just that and made some very good friends and fond memories.”
Smithies made her name as a cricketer in her own right, and has the honour of being the only senior World Cup winner within the Sky Blues family. She captained the England women to a second world title in 1993, and her efforts in the game saw her awarded an Order of the British Empire by Her Majesty, The Queen. She also holds an honorary Life Membership with the MCC, an honour bestowed upon her in 2017.
“My love for cricket came from my Dad. He was captain, grounds man and Chairman of a local club. Mum made the teas and my sister was the scorer! It was only natural that I followed, and I ended up as the captain of the U/18 boys team at the same club!”
That foundation soon got her noticed, and she started out in women’s cricket in 1983, after an umpire recommended that she go for Nottingham Ladies’ trials. Her progress was swift as an all-rounder, and she was in the Junior England set up within a year. By 1986, she had made her full English debut against India.
In all, she played 15 Test matches and 69 one-dayers for her country, traversing three World Cups. Beyond the game, she earned her coaching certificates, with her Level 3 seeing her employed as the Northerns Women’s coach in 2003.
The growth of the game internationally excites Smithies, as the prominence of female cricketers is enhanced by the year. Stand alone tournaments have given a new dimension, and the impact is being seen across the world.
“The women’s game internationally is in a really good space right now. We saw a full house at Lords for the 2017 Women’s World Cup final, and the recent full house at the MCG. With proper national contracts in place for the majority of countries, women’s cricket will only get more professional and stronger,” she enthused.
“Competitions such as the WWBL also create strength and opportunities. I think it is also becoming a very marketable commodity with sponsors looking to join the growth. To think that my ex-England teammate Clare Connor will be the next MCC President is a massive step, and one that will go down in history.”
But there are still some massive challenges, especially closer to home. Having been in and around the women’s game for over a decade, Smithies has thoughts on the matter.
“Domestically, I really think there is a lot of work to be done at grass roots level, right through to senior level. In my opinion, women’s cricket has not been taken seriously for a long time and only now are the top players seeing a change,” she challenged.
“More focus should also be provided to the next level of players to keep them in the system. You need contracts, a much stronger domestic structure and more fixtures against stronger opposition, as well as a strong coaching and managing structure.”
In looking forward, Smithies says it is also very important to look back, and remember those who have made the advancements of the women’s game today possible.
For her, Women’s Month is an opportunity to celebrate all the achievements of women, from mothers, to business pioneers, world leaders and those on the sporting arena, because they have continued the striving for equality and opportunity.
“The celebration of those women cricketers who came before us should never be forgotten, because it is their passion and drive which has led us to where we are today. Women’s cricket and cricket in general has been a major part of my life, and I just want to see more and more women and girls playing and being part of this great game.”