“When I started playing for South Africa, support was lacking and it wasn’t easy. When I first heard I was about to play for the Proteas, I pictured us being in the limelight like the men’s team. But it was totally different, nobody knew we had a women’s team,” Letsoalo recalls.
“But we’ve made such progress, we now get so much and the publicity and media attention is good too. We’re definitely headed in the right direction.”
The 30-year-old medium-pacer was heading for England in a few hours when she spoke to The Pretoria News at the High Performance Centre at Tuks on Monday, with Momentum, the sponsors who have made such a difference to women’s cricket in South Africa, giving the national team a send-off before their three-match T20 series against the World Cup runners-up and two games versus Ireland.
Momentum have certainly put their money where their mouth is by extending the six central contracts they paid for last year to all 14 members of the national squad, while yesterday the announcement was also made that SuperSport have come on board and will provide live coverage of all three matches against England on September 1, 3 and 7.
“Oh wow, the pressure!” Letsoalo joked. “No, it’s exciting, it’s what we’ve always wanted to happen. It’s my dream come true to be able to call myself a professional cricketer, from 2007 it’s what I’ve dreamt of. I’ve been working hard and finally got the reward, so it’s superb.
“My grandmother and other relatives have never seen me play cricket, so now that it’s on TV, it’s a great opportunity for them to do that,” the South African Air Force employee says.
Born in Phalaborwa, Letsoalo had to come down to Pretoria, enrolling at Tshwane North College for a management diploma, for her to make her cricket dreams come true. Women’s cricket in Limpopo in the early 2000s was very much at a fledgling level, so she spent her formative years playing with schoolboys in informal games.
“When I was 13, I saw a men’s game on TV, I had only seen cricket on TV. So I started played with the boys on the street and my passion grew for the game.
“I started playing for Foskor Cricket Club, but even then it was only with boys. But I never stopped because of my love for the sport,” Letsoalo says.
She finally experienced cricket without the boys when she started playing for the Limpopo U19 provincial team, but she admits she came to Pretoria both for study and cricketing purposes. Joining Atteridgeville Cricket Club, she was soon invited to Northerns trials and she was firmly on the road to the international stage.
Someone with Letsoalo’s sheer passion, determination and infectious enthusiasm is very difficult to keep down, and she soon won over her family, who were sceptical at first about her life choices.
“They weren’t very happy with me playing cricket, they used to say ‘It’s not safe with the boys!’ But they saw there was no stopping me and I just kept going. Eventually they realised that cricket is my passion in life,” she recalls.
A nagging medium-pacer who is more of a seam bowler than a swing merchant, Letsoalo says she is inspired by a pair of South African pace bowling legends – Makhaya Ntini and Shaun Pollock.
Both of them achieved a great deal of success in England and, although South Africa’s women have never beaten them, Letsoalo says the team is looking forward to testing themselves against top-class opposition.
“Conditions should be similar to here and we’re looking forward to the tour as a group. We want competitive cricket, we’re not going to stress too much about the results, but rather focus on implementing what we’ve learnt here at the academy, where we’ve been having a camp. We’re not going to play the names.”
A senior player now with 72 appearances across the three formats for the Proteas, Letsoalo is a bundle of good energy for a team that is definitely moving forward. She didn’t stand still in Phalaborwa, making the life-changing move to Pretoria, and she is eager that the national team do the same.
“I would love to see us in the top two women’s cricket nations in the world. We made the top four in the Women’s World T20 earlier this year, so we are preparing to see if we can make the top two in the 2017 World Cup,” the player who just loves cricket says.