Cricket in Chile dates back to 1829 when the crew of two Royal Navy of Britain played among them at Valparaiso. The Valparaiso Cricket Club used to be the oldest in the country was established in 1860. After WW-II, the sports faced a rapid decline due to the exodus of the British officers. After WWII, interest in cricket decreased and it was until 2002 when Chile became an Associate Member of the ICC.
Women cricket was a distant dream in this entire scenario. But the formation of the South American Women Championship in 2009 and ICC’s decision to grant international status to every T-20 match played even by their Associate Members in 2018, encouraged several women to pick up cricket for a new experience and search of their identity.
Chile National Women Cricket team, popularly known as ‘Las Loicas’, became runners up in 2018 in SAWC (South American Women Championship) and 3rd in 2019. Chile is in the 48th position in ICC Women T20 ranking, behind Argentina and Brazil among the South American Country. Jeannette Cristina Garces Gonzalez, the first-ever captain of the National Women’s Team, has witnessed the growth of women cricket in Chile from the days of its emancipation.
Gonzalez has played 9 matches, scored 35 runs, and picked up 4 wickets for her nation. Under her captaincy, ‘Las Loicas’ has won 4 out of their 9 matches in SAWC tournaments. Jeannette adores Nelson Mandela and believes his words that sports have the power to change the world. For Jeannette, who has grown up in a country where football has its deep-rooted domination, cricket was nowhere in her vicinity. She wanted to represent her nation in any sports and choose Tennis, to begin with. Her encounter with cricket started all of a sudden.
“I used to play a lot of sports and even wanted to represent Chile in Tennis. While at the university, way back in 2009, I was trying different sports. One day, one of my friends said that she had come to know from her brother who works in Australia about a game call cricket. Her brother used to play cricket there and told her that one of the male teams from MCC was visiting Chile. She asked me if I would like the see the game. That time I knew nothing about the game. But I watched the game and later even participated in one of the matches that were organized to teach the people about the game. I had no idea about the rules but it was a joy-full one. I was able to hit a few balls,” she said.
Jeannette Cristina Garces Gonzalez again added, “After that day, my interest in cricket started and I invested my time towards the game. I started to read and learn about the rules. After that game, I came to know about the Beach Cricket Tournament and they said if I want to join, I can attend the practice sessions with them. Though Beach cricket does not very much adhere to the exact rules of cricket it is fun and helps people to get into the game. The spirit of the game is the same. Next year I took part in it and day by day I kept improving. That how my journey started. Though my initial days of practice used to be with the boys, in my first Beach Cricket Championship we managed to put up a girls’ team somehow.”
Cricket Association of Chile decided to put up the first-ever National Chile Women’s Team in 2009-10 for South American Cricket Championship. It was a quite difficult task. The lack of infrastructure was the main barrier to formulate a team.
“We don’t have a domestic circuit still now. So, we have to call players who used to play other sports to make the squad. We reached out to several colleges or universities and ask our friends or people who are good at several other sports like tennis or hockey to join the team. We do not have adequate infrastructure even now. Cricket is not very popular in Chile, which makes our job much more difficult. Many women who had shown interest and started playing it gradually lost it and left. To be very honest, the role of the Association is not very clear to me regarding the development of women cricket. We are not given much importance and its always the personal interest that helps us to keep going. If we are somehow able to manage 15 players then, we are permitted to participate in the championships”.
Jeannette has her reasons to become an ardent supporter of Proteas. Even she revealed her favourite player as well.
“The first match that I saw was that of South Africa’s and I loved watching Mignon Du Preez play. From that day, I wanted to be like her as a player and as well as captain. I liked the team spirit and the passion in the Proteas Team, which I always want to inculcate within myself and my team. It’s very captivating to watch her. She inspires me not just as a captain, but as a human being. I see her as a leader, who not only lead her team to the glory but also has a big heart. I wanted to be a captain like her,” added Jeannette Cristina Garces Gonzalez.
“To me, apart from cricket, it’s about a country or a team which one can relate to one’s existence. Besides, I idolize Nelson Mandela and his vision about sports, which can unite a nation. Cricket is not only about a game or the performance in a match, at the same time it shapes the individual. You learn to express your selves, you learn the value of team spirit. You take your self-belief to a position where it can ignite the fire in hearts to achieve the impossible.”
If you ask me, besides being an athlete and a cricketer, I am well aware of my society, the political condition of the country, and I connect cricket with the broader picture of the society. Recently there was a huge procession on 8th March to commemorate the International Women Day in solidarity with the protests that have been going on for months. I took part in it. These encourage me to become a better person which reflects on my leadership,” expressed Jeannette Cristina Garces Gonzalez.
Talking about the hardship that she faces daily as a cricketer, Jeannette pointed out several issues. She said they don’t have any coach for the last three years despite they played final in 2018 South American Games. The team is 48 in ICC Ranking too.
She expects better facilities will lead to a situation where they can train for hours. Even they have to depend on others to buy the equipment too. Moreover, they have to order equipment online as most of those are not available offline. They have to ask their friends, who are traveling to any cricket playing country to buy equipment. She even told that their male counterparts sometimes give them equipment or old used bats as well
“We don’t have any particular ground to practice. We have a ground in Santiago which is about 30 KM from my house. And most of us have to travel in public transport with the kit bag which sometimes creates a problem. Sometimes we practice in the field of a school or at any public park. We used to practice in nets and that used to be owned by a hostel. But now the hostel owner wants to use that for other purposes. So, we don’t have a net to practice. Due to this epidemic, there will be no cricket this year, so we have some time to resolve the problem and we need to talk to the directory regarding this issue,” told Jeannette Cristina Garces Gonzalez.
Second part of the interview is here