Supermom Masabata Klaas’ great balancing act

Masabata Klaas celebrates a wicket with teammate Sune Luus. © ICC

Being a professional cricketer can be a tough gig – tougher if you are a woman! It’s not always just about rising above the cricketing challenges and becoming the best player you can be. You also need a robust support system to be the best version of yourself, personally as well as professionally. But before that, you need to jostle to create a space for yourself.

And jostling for space is something Masabata Klaas was always good at. “I started playing cricket at the age of 11 at my primary school, Selokisa, in Botshabelo, Free State. I fell in love with the game while watching the boys play during lunchtime,” Klaas tells Women’s CricZone.

“I asked to join them, but because I was a girl, they wouldn’t allow me to bat or bowl because it was deemed a sport for ‘only for the boys.’ I didn’t give up though. I kept on going there until they finally gave in and allowed me to participate.”

Klaas played with the boys until she was 13 and then decided to ask the coach, Mofokeng Betty, to start a girls team and she hasn’t looked back since. She rose through the provincial age-groups to play for the senior Free State team and from there made it to the South Africa national side.

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Klaas made her debut for South Africa in 2010 against Sri Lanka at home, and bowled only two overs on her debut. Making it to the South African side was just the beginning, and Klaas was aware of the work she would have to put in to become an integral part of the unit. Between 2010 and 2013, she didn’t always make it to the playing XI and featured in only eight international matches taking five wickets, but she remained part of the squad, honing her skills on the sidelines.

However, come 2013, at the age of 22, there were choices to be made. With a newborn daughter to look after, Klaas had to shift her focus to family and fulfill her duties as a mother. It was hard to walk away from the game at the time – more so, given that women’s cricket in South Africa was just beginning to take off – but she knew it was the right decision. She had to do what was best for her daughter.

“I decided to step away to prepare to be a mom to my little girl. And to be quite honest, it wasn’t an easy decision to make but it was the right one.”

Over the next couple of years, Klaas dedicated her time to her daughter, Rethabile, but maintained that she wanted to return to the field one day. Finding time to stay fit and work on her craft, whilst also caring for her child was without doubt a difficult balancing act, but she had a strong personal support system to get her through it – her mother, Paulinah Klaas.

“One of the keys to balancing motherhood and cricket, is the help and support of my mom, Paulinah Klaas,” she explains.

“I love cricket with all of my heart. After giving birth, I told my mom that I am going to be back in my green and gold attire. With the support of my mom, I managed to get back in shape, which involved extra hard work on my fitness and putting in performances with my provincial team.”

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From 2013 to 2015, Klaas continued playing provincial cricket and made her return to the South Africa side when they took on Pakistan in Sharjah in March 2015. During the 2015-16 season, playing for Free State, she took eight wickets from three matches in the provincial one-day competition and also claimed an impressive 3 for 9 against Western Province during the T20 competition.

By 2016, the pacer had become a regular in the South African side appearing in 16 of the 22 ODIs they played that year. She took 14 wickets at an average of 28.64 and an economy rate of 4.82. In March 2018, she earned her maiden central contract with CSA – one of only 14 players to hold a contract that season.

Unsurprisingly, she says her mother’s support was vital to her comeback tail.

“The unwavering support that my mom has given me over the years has made it easier for me to pursue a career in cricket. She’s always there to look after my daughter, particularly when I’m away on tour and attending training camps. She never gives up on me.”

© ICC Masabata Klaas in action for South Africa. © ICC

“The love I have for my mom and daughter is priceless. Every little bit of time I have during my tight schedule, I spend with family because I know that when I’m away on tour, I’m away from home for a significant amount of time.”

All the hard yards and the sacrifices through that period came to fruition for Klaas, now a centrally contracted player, when South Africa took on Pakistan in the second ODI of the ICC Championship series at Senwes Park in Potchefstroom in May 2019. She dismissed the trio of Aliya Riaz, Omaima Sohail and Sidra Nawaz to trigger the visitors’ collapse and thus became the second South African – after her skipper Dane van Niekerk – to take an ODI hat-trick.

“My best moment to date was when I took a hat-trick against Pakistan last year and was named Player of the Match for that performance,” Klaas says. “I remember we bowled first on the day and my first spell didn’t go well but after that, I told myself that ‘I’m going to come back strong for my second spell’ and that’s exactly what I did.”

It was the first of three consecutive three-wicket hauls in ODI cricket; the third of which came during the team’s historic series triumph over New Zealand in New Zealand at the start of this year.

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Having recently been part of South Africa’s squad that suffered a heartbreaking loss to Australia in the semi-final of the T20 World Cup, Klaas was hoping to build on the momentum the team had gained. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented the fast bowler from adding to her 84 international caps. While the virus has come with its own set of challenges, Klaas believes that there are a number of perks as well.

“Spending time with my daughter was priceless because I don’t normally get to spend a lot of quality time with her. We had our schedule – early in the morning while she was still sleeping, I would do my exercises so that when she woke up, I will be done with my workouts,” she said.

“Training under lockdown was challenging at first but as time went by it became better because as (we) went into Level 3 lockdown, we were allowed to run wherever we wanted and our fitness trainer made it easier by giving us home workout programs.”

As South Africa continue to search for ways to return to the field – they are currently involved in a training camp in Pretoria – Klaas has set her goals and will continue to put in the hard yards as she tries to make her space in the cricketing world. The 29-year-old, whose journey has coincided with the growth of women’s cricket in South Africa, is determined to become a more consistent match-winner for her side while also finding time for her daughter.

“I want (to) be one of the best players in the world and win trophies for my team,” she concludes.

No matter how many more wickets she takes and matches she wins for her country, Klaas has already proven to be an inspiration to all those around her. Most importantly, quite early on, she has taught young Rethabile an invaluable lesson: if one is truly committed to a cause, almost anything is possible.