Kass Naidoo: Talking for cricket

Her eyes flicker with excitement when she talks about the game, clearly her first love. Kass Naidoo, the newly appointed commercial manager for Cricket South Africa, looks small as she sits behind her table, papers lying scattered on her desk. When asked about the game she does not know where to start: “I’m a cricket fan who just cannot get enough of it.”

But she is aware of the difficulties facing the South African game.

“I was not really sure about applying [for this job]. I want to be part of change, I want to tell the good story on transformation,” she says. “But the problem is that people want to equate transformation to a quota system and who wants to be known as a quota player?”

Naidoo came to prominence as the first South African woman cricket commentator. It was the fulfilment of a dream she had as a teenager: she was 14 years old when the best-known female commentator in the world, Barbadian Donna Symmonds, visited South Africa in the 1992/93 season.

Naidoo remembers hearing Symmonds: “I heard this amazing voice; I found a commentator who spoke to me ... and I knew then I would be a commentator,” she says.

She says many thought it was a pipedream. The idea that a woman of Indian origin could be a commentator in a game dominated by white males seemed too ambitious even for a go-getter like Naidoo. But the negative reaction only spurred her on: “It really motivated me each time when people said no, it could not happen.”

The other driving force was her love for cricket. As a young girl she would bunk classes to go and watch matches. “I plan everything around cricket—I even planned my wedding around it,” she says.

She achieved a journalism diploma at the Durban University of Technology before joining a Durban daily newspaper—though as a news rather than a sports journalist, as she would have preferred.

Her big break came in 1999 when she moved to Johannesburg, where she was appointed as a producer for a sports show on Talk Radio 702.

“When I moved to Johannesburg in 1999 I shaved my head [because she did not want to be thought of as just a pretty face] and my parents realised then there was nothing that could stop me from doing what I liked,” she says.

She joined the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) in 2003 as a commentator before hosting a sports show—Game Plan—on SAfm. She left SABC last year to launch a women’s sports initiative, G-Sports, which aims to promote South African sportswomen.

“Every time I spoke to women on the radio show, I realised that they were not being supported enough,” says Naidoo.

One of her former colleagues, SABC radio cricket commentator Zolani Bongco, testifies to Naidoo’s passion for the sport and the empowerment of women.

“I like her professionalism, keenness, preparedness to learn; she is passionate about her job. If you talk about women empowerment, you are talking about her and she’s not apologetic about it, she does not compromise.

“I also liked the way she handled post-match interviews—that was her strongest point.”

Naidoo is now responsible for marketing and communications for Cricket South Africa and is grateful that she has the support of the organisation’s chief executive, Gerald Majola.

Despite her move to the boardroom, Naidoo does not miss a chance to watch the game. She was impressed with the South African under-19 side’s performance at the World Cup, where South Africa lost to India in the final by 12 runs.

“It was amazing. We have the new Jonty Rhodes and we need to instil passion in our players while they are still young.”

Of the older players, she is partial to Jacques Kallis and Makhaya Ntini. “Kallis is a wonderful batsman to watch and Makhaya Ntini is a great role model. And I like the way he celebrates,” says Naidoo.

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