INTERVIEW: Sian Kelly On Bringing Women’s Cricket To Argentina – “We have to explain that cricket is not croquet!”

The Warwickshire Wicket-Keeper Talks About Her Role Developing Women’s Cricket In Argentina

When you think of sport in Argentina, you probably don’t think of cricket! You think of football, of course, as well as rugby, tennis and hockey – but cricket…?

Yet as Sian Kelly – Cricket Argentina’s newly appointed Women’s Development Officer and national coach – explains to us over tea and scones at a posh cafe in Oxford, the game actually has a long history in the country.

“Cricket has been there since the English arrived in the 1800s to build the railways – we had a game a couple of months ago which was the 150th anniversary of when Uruguay and Argentina played their first game, so it has been going for a long time. The English built old sporting clubs, which were typical English gentlemen’s clubs which were not allowed for Argentines; but then over the years the English left, and the Argentines have taken over.”

Kelly first arrived in Argentina as a student on her year abroad, while she was studying modern languages at Oxford; but now she is set to return to South America in a new dual cricketing role.

“From August to September I’ll be working with the Argentine women’s team again, prepping them for the South American Championship which happens each year. Then October until March is the season over there, so my role will be Female Development Officer, making sure that each of the clubs have got a girls section and that they are running it.”

Long established it may be, but it is fair to say that cricket is not (yet!) a big sport in Argentina.

“Cricket is very much in Buenos Aires – there are 6 men’s clubs and also a lot of schools playing. It is mostly middle and upper class, English-speaking people that play; but on the flip-side we’ve got a charity that goes into the “villas” – the shanty towns – called Cricket Sin Fronteras – Cricket Without Borders – and they go into the schools in the poorer areas and use cricket as a way to get kids doing something and keeping them away from crime.”

Part of Kelly’s job therefore involves introducing cricket to people for the very first time.

“We have to explain that cricket is not croquet, because in Argentine Spanish it sounds very similar, so whenever you say ‘Have you heard of cricket?’ they say ‘Yes – from the Alice in Wonderland film!’ So I literally take 30 seconds to explain the rules, then they absolutely love it, because it is so new and different and exciting to them!”

“You add a bit of Spanish into the terminology, kind of like Spanglish, so you have ‘fieldear’ to field and ‘batear’ to bat; but you can’t really translate ‘Howzat’ so you just get the kids going ‘Haaawwwwaaaa!!!'”

Social attitudes can also be a bit of a challenge in what is quite a conservative country.

“The attitude to women’s cricket is… changing! Generally, men are quite happy for the women to play cricket, but where we come up against obstacles is when we want to mix the two together – we’ve had a couple of people saying that the girls can’t play with the boys, and a couple of teams that don’t want to play against a women’s team. But that’s slowly changing.”

Some other problems, however, will be more familiar to anyone working in grassroots cricket in England.

“Moving girls into adult cricket is a challenge – it is really difficult when you have one or two girls, because you end up coaching them by themselves and it’s not fun any more; but it will get easier when there are lots of teams to play against each other. So my idea is that these girls in the future don’t have to play against boys teams and don’t have to be the only woman in the club that is playing, but they can have a women’s team and play against other women’s teams.”

Unsurprisingly, money is an issue too.

“Depending on your ICC status, you get a certain investment each year, and you have to put that into youth cricket or the women’s – you can pay coaches to go into schools and that kind of thing. Each region in the Americas doesn’t get a lot of money – we used to be in Division 1 of the World League, but we’ve slowly fallen down, so we are getting less money now.”

“Before, a lot of the money went into the adult teams, because obviously they go to the major competitions and they can increase their ranking, and you get more money depending on where you are in the ICC rankings. But Cricket Argentina have gone back into the youth and grassroots now, so each club is getting a big base of boys and girls, and my job is to make sure that the girls aren’t left behind.”

It clearly won’t be a short journey, or an easy one; but with Kelly bringing her obvious enthusiasm for both cricket and her adopted country to the helm, we are guessing it will be a good one!

You can find out more about Cricket Sin Fronteras on YouTube here (in Spanish, but English subtitles available if you click the right buttons) and on Facebook here; and follow the Argentina women’s cricket team on Twitter here.