On October 28, Rwanda’s first international-standard cricket stadium will be officially opened as part of a week of events celebrating the completion of a six-year project. On her first visit to Lord’s, the captain of Rwanda’s national women’s team Mary Maina spoke to Jo Harman about the growth of cricket in her country and its wider social impact, and says it’s only a matter of time before they compete at a World Cup.
Mary, how did you first discover cricket?
I like to refer to it as the best accident that ever happened to me. It was not something planned like everybody else who starts by watching. I love keeping fit and jogging, I was running around the ground one afternoon and it just so happened that our school team was having a training session with a national coach. The coach didn’t know everybody on the team so when he saw me jogging he was like, ‘What is going on here? I didn’t tell you to warm-up, why are you the only one warming up?’ He was so furious at me to the point that I just had to lay low and join the team for him to feel better. My initial plan was to sneak out when he wasn’t looking but when I started bowling I wanted to bowl more. I just loved the game instantly.
Had you seen much cricket up to that point?
Not to the point of understanding what was going on. I’d seen it on TV, the ball being hit, people running up and down, but I didn’t understand.
How popular is cricket now in Rwanda?
It is growing at a very fast rate. It is one of the fastest growing sports in the country. Given that it is quite a young sport – it is not even two decades old in Rwanda – it has already captured around 5,000 people who are getting introduced to it. Cricket is more than just games and ball and bat. I think it is doing well because it is impacting people socially. We have programmes where we warn against HIV and AIDS through cricket and it is giving women empowerment. As a cricketer, decision-making is really important, especially when you’re batting. It’s between you, and the ball and the bat. It is your decision to make whether to hit the ball or not to hit it. It actually teaches people how to have self-confidence in their decision and get solution-oriented people. It changes people’s lives. It has changed my life and it has made me who I am today. It has made me believe in what I’m thinking. Prove me wrong if I’m not thinking right; I’m not laying back and waiting for the men to make decisions for me. Cricket is more than just a game.
Are there as many girls and women playing cricket as boys and men?
There are many men playing because they started playing and getting involved much earlier, so women are less in terms of numbers, but they are increasing at a higher rate than men.
Did this summer’s Women’s World Cup get much coverage in Rwanda?
Yes, we watched it on TV. We followed the games and watched how the ladies out there play their game. We are quite young in terms of playing cricket so it is very inspiring to watch people like Heather Knight and Mithali [Raj] and their actions when they are playing. Is that shot being played by a girl? And why am I not playing that shot? It is inspiring to watch such things and it moves you – it gives you a reason to want to train every second.
Do you think Rwanda could play in a World Cup one day?
I’m not thinking, I’m assuring you. I’m very sure because we now have the best facilities around. We were improving in our game without the best facilities but now that we are having the best facilities around the region, we have no excuse. We have everything we might need. We are good at using what we have to get to where we want, and that is why I’m very optimistic.
You recently finished a university degree in Biotechnology at the University of Rwanda. How difficult was it balance your studies with cricket?
It was very challenging because they are the two things that I needed to excel in. I didn’t have an excuse to fail in class because I cannot say that I am failing to study because I am playing cricket. And I have no excuse not to perform on the field because I’m studying. I love to appreciate all experiences because at some point it makes you something better. I can say that the experience taught me how to balance stuff in my life and get everything done. That attitude grew in me.
If you want to find out more information about The Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation and Cricket Builds Hope, please visit www.rcsf.org.uk. All donations are welcome and much appreciated