Ayabonga Khaka: Representing my country a dream come true
Khaka has more than 80 caps for the national women's cricket side and believes that her hard work and dedication in the sport made her who she was today - one of the world's best bowlers.
CAPE TOWN - "There's no excuse that you can't play sport - there are many athletes that come from rural areas who pushed hard to be the best - anyone can," said Proteas Women fast bowler Ayabonga Khaka as she looked back at the start of her career.
Khaka, who plies her trade for the Gauteng Women, has more than 80 caps for the national women's cricket side.
The Proteas star was born in Middeldrift, 25km outside Alice in the Eastern Cape.
She believed that her hard work and dedication in the sport made her who she was today - one of the world's best bowlers.
The 27-year-old made her one-day international (ODI) debut for the Proteas Women against Bangladesh in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 6 September 2012, before making her Twenty20 International (T20I) debut a few days later at the same venue.
Since then, Khaka has gone from strength to strength, as she's notched career-best bowling figures of 3/13 in ODIs and 4/23 in T20Is.
She said her love for cricket started at school before she joined Border Women.
"My love for cricket started from school at a very young age before I later joined Border Women. I played mini-cricket until I was 14 because there wasn’t anywhere else to go and I didn’t know about women’s cricket at that point," said Khaka.
"I didn't know about cricket and clubs until there was Border - for me, I was just playing cricket because it's a sport and I was loving it. I didn't know about women's cricket even with Border."
"In 2007, while I was in Grade 9, I played football. Then there was this women's cricket club in Middledrift, then I started playing cricket again."
The Proteas fast bowler said that in terms of development of the game for women, things were better compared to when she was starting out. But Khaka admitted that as soon as she made her national debut, things were different.
"The cricket is only developing now than before - being in the Eastern Cape it wasn't easy for us. There were hubs to train and so forth but it was not the same," she said.
"But there was a time where I started with the SA team being there looking to adjust, it was hard for me during the off-season to get coaches. I had to do everything by myself because in Border there was only training for two weeks. To get coaches and other things I had to do it all alone - it wasn't easy.
"As I look back now - it was a great feeling to make my national team debut, it's always nice to represent your country. It was during the start of my career in cricket, I couldn't ask for a better time to start my career."
Khaka's idol in cricket is former Proteas fast bowler Makhaya Ntini, who she described as someone who showed the world it did not matter where you came from - you could be the best.
She was part of the Proteas Women team that fell just short of reaching their maiden tournament final at the recent Twenty20 World Cup that was held in Australia, losing to eventual champions Australia.
Khaka knows how hard the team worked.
"It was a great tournament for us as a team, we have learnt a lot. We still have a lot of room to improve," she said.
"We competed against the best and we showed the world that we can face any team. We did well and for me personally, I enjoyed every moment to represent my country."
Khaka, who is a Human Movement Sciences student at the University of Fort Hare, said her wish was to see women's sport in South Africa getting proper investment and structures.
She said her aim was to represent SA as much as she could.
"The most important thing in women sport is to have the right structures across all sports because without structures it doesn't seem right," she said.
"I just want to enjoy the career I have and continue to represent South Africa as much as I can be. I enjoy the environment of our team - the united of it, I get inspired by my teammates especially Marizanne Kapp who always leads the bowling side and attack very well and also because she's a blower."
"I'd like to advise young girls out there that the resources and environment that you have doesn't determine where you want to go, what you want to do at the end of the day. There's no excuse you can't play sport - there are many athletes that come from rural areas who pushed hard to be the best, anyone can. So the thing of the resources is not an excuse anymore, hard work and passion matters."