Game changing moment for women’s cricket: Commentator Kass Naidoo
India’s made it to the final of the T20 Women’s World Cup in Australia where the series is playing out. Ahead of all the action, we are talking to Kass Naidoo who is empowering women via sport. She defied the odds to achieve her childhood dream of becoming South Africa’s first woman television cricket commentator at the age of 27.
Q. The ICC Women’s T20 World Cup is underway and women’s cricket is getting both coverage and viewership on an unprecedented scale. People who rarely watched women’s cricket are following it (at least the trend seen in India) what has led to this shift?
Women’s sport is on an upward curve globally. I was in Surat and Baroda last year and was amazed by the support for women’s cricket. Top performances also lead to increased support. Winning world titles is a game changer. Women’s cricket in India will be boosted like never before with India in the final.
The world is watching as India’s young stars lead the charge globally and break down barriers on their way to the top. It’s inspiring to see young women go from humble beginnings to global stardom.
Q. Which players have impressed you the most in this T20 world cup with their performance?
The young players have stood out. Laura Wolvaardt from South Africa and Shafali Verma from India are two standout players for me. Still a lot is left to be done to level the field. What can be done to ensure that women cricket is seen at par with the male version? Long term, women’s cricket needs to then fully professional worldwide in order for the playing fields to be levelled.
Q. You are one of the rare female commentators who haven’t played any professional cricket. How did you end up doing cricket commentary?
When I was 14, I heard a woman commentate on men’s international cricket for the first time. I was bowled over by West Indian Donna Symmonds during a tri-Series in South Africa in 1992 and her ability to keep me hooked on the action. It was then that I announced to my family that my dream was to become South Africa’s first woman commentator.
I fell in love with cricket a year before that when South Africa was reintroduced to international cricket after isolation and undertook a historic tour of India. I was filled with national pride and a year later when I heard a woman’s voice in the commentary box, there was no turning back. My heart was set on commentating.
Also Read: SheThePeople’s full coverage on women’s cricket
Q. Being South Africa’s first female commentator ever, this journey mustn’t have been easy for you? Did you face any resistance foraying into this male dominated space?
My dream made many people awkward. I guess they didn’t want me to fail so they tried to get me to consider a more conventional career but something inside said that I should push on and work towards this crazy dream. I spent hours watching cricket on TV and live at Kingsmead. I spoke to everyone and even the detractors inspired me because their negativity made the fire inside me burn brighter. In 2003, I got the call to anchor the ICC Cricket World Cup for SABC. Two years later, I broke through and achieved my dream of becoming a television cricket commentator.
Q. What was the initial reaction of your fellow male commentators and players? And how has that changed over time?
It took me a number of years for me to be comfortable. With no rules for women commentators, I made them up as I went, and over time I built up credibility and the cricket community started to trust me and my role in the commentary box. The biggest challenge was getting over the imposter syndrome. I firmly believe that how you feel about yourself is how people react to you. Having never played the game, I have ensured that I am always clear about my role which is to be the unifying voice in commentary and to bring out the best in my experts and analysts.
Q. Why do you think we have such few women commentators even today?
Women commentators are on the rise and with top players retiring from the game, we will find more of them making their way into the cricket media space. I think someone like Mithali Raj will be brilliant in commentary. It is tough to get in and even tougher to stay in as a woman. I took eight years off traveling, even though I hosted World Cups during that time, so I could have children. After three kids, I was given the opportunity to return to commentary, and I loved it more than before. Balancing being a mom and career woman has been my biggest challenge and I am grateful for a supportive husband who is backing me to live my dream.
Q. Do you think that because sports is largely seen as men’s domain women commentators have to struggle to establish credibility because you are expected to have certain expertise regarding the sport and many male viewers may not approve of your aptitude?
Credibility is key and it takes time to build a reputation in the game. It is said that it tokes at least 10 years to become an overnight success and anyone who wants to have a career in commentary must be prepared to invest time in making it happen. Male or female, credibility is the name of the game. I work on my craft daily and always look to learn from feedback whether negative or positive. I don’t take things personally.
Q. Could you tell us about your mentors?
My mentors in cricket commentary were all men. They were forthcoming with information and tips and I still stay in touch with them. I shadowed Robin Jackman for two years and when I got into commentary he continued to guide me. Neil Manthorp has also been helpful. Internationally, Harsha Bhogle is one of the key people who has guided and given me advice on how to grow in the international commentary space. I met with him in India last year after not seeing him for many years and once again he was happy to share his knowledge with me.
Q. Who are the people who have helped you on this journey?
My husband, Ryk, is the main reason I am where I am today. His support, love and guidance on this challenging journey has kept me upbeat. He is also proud of me and that makes me want to do better. Women commentators are also starting to form a close bond as we help each other grow in the cricket media space. For instance, I was able to call Mel Jones and get advice from her before coming to Pakistan to commentate on the HBL Pakistan Super League. She had done it in 2017 and provided great insights and tips.