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Feature

Sinalo Jafta - almost walking away from cricket to playing a T20 World Cup final

"I was 27 and I was done. Now as a 28-year-old, I've got my whole career ahead of me"

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
27-Feb-2023
Sinalo Jafta's life has taken a turn for the better in the last four months  •  ICC/Getty Images

Sinalo Jafta's life has taken a turn for the better in the last four months  •  ICC/Getty Images

"I am going to wear this, I am going to go to bed with it, I am going to shower with it, because this wasn't even possible for me. This is probably my gold…. for now."
Four months before holding up her silver medal at the 2023 Women's T20 World Cup, Sinalo Jafta checked herself into rehab for alcohol abuse, with the intention of retiring from cricket.
"I was walking away from cricket. The 7th of October (2022) is when I made the decision I was going to go into treatment. I was done. I felt like I had nothing to give," she told reporters through her tears after South Africa lost their first World Cup final to Australia.
"I remember coming back from the Comm (Commonwealth) Games, and everything just broke. I lost who I was," Jafta said. "I went to rehab and now to play the final four months afterwards, it's pretty emotional."
"Social media doesn't support you. You have a really tough day and people just bullet you on social media. That sent me over the edge. It just wouldn't stop"
Sinalo Jafta
Jafta cited online abuse for affecting her mental health, which in turn led to her drinking excessively. As a wicketkeeper, who bats mostly at No.8, Jafta has been taunted about everything from her performance to her body weight and her race. Eventually, it all became a bit too much for her to handle.
"Social media doesn't support you. You have a really tough day and people just bullet you on social media. That sent me over the edge. It just wouldn't stop," she said. " The team doctor and the management gave me two months of medical leave. I spent 56 days in treatment and I learnt the best about myself. They (online bullies) are irrelevant. People are allowed to have their opinions but it doesn't define who I am. I am forever grateful for that."
On December 8, 2022, Jafta was discharged from rehab, ready for a new start. A month later she was playing for South Africa in their tri-series between West Indies and India and in line to play the 2023 T20 World Cup at home. Her love for cricket had not changed, but her perspective had.
"The one thing I learnt in the time off is that it was always a behaviour thing. I must be the same person on the field as I am off the field," Jafta said "Always humble, always for Him. I've just got God to thank for my sobriety at the end of the day and the team have been so supportive during this phase. I came out on the 8th of December and for me to get fit and now to play … hectic. That's all I can say. Thank you to management and my team-mates."
There's also someone else Jafta wanted to mention - her mother. A single parent, who brought Jafta and her brother up on a teacher's salary, Lumka Jafta not only pulled her daughter through the toughest period in her life, but remains her No.1 fan. "My mom came to her first ever international game against Sri Lanka. She is a cricket fan now. She knows nothing about cricket but she knows how to cover drive, apparently!" Jafta said.
"For them to just watch and going to my village, people are going to want to start playing cricket now. There's not many resources where I come from."
In that, she is not alone. Most of the current South Africa team are from humble, or even deprived, backgrounds and came together to deliver the country's best white-ball result in their history. They inspired a nation like never before, with a sell-out crowd at all three grounds they played at. "I am so proud. The girls showcased what unity does," Jafta said. "This loss is not a failure for me. It's always a lesson. And there's so many other cricket games to go and if we as a team keep improving, there's so much to come."
Like her captain Sune Luus and opening batter Laura Wolvaardt, Jafta called on Cricket South Africa (CSA) to invest in the women's game in order for it to realise its full potential. "CSA has got a lot of work to do. We played in the final which is a big positive. We might not be where Australia is, but we could do that with less resources but so much potential," Jafta said. "CSA is most probably in the happiest of places because if you can do this, imagine what you can do in the next three years if you actually invest in women's cricket in the country."
As for Jafta - the person who was ready to quit four months ago is now just getting started, with a silver medal that is as precious as gold and a desire to get her hands on the real deal soon.
"I was 27 and I was done. Now as a 28-year-old, I've got my whole career ahead of me and the fact is that I can say I have a career ahead of me," she said. "Going into bat or keep, I just play fearlessly because what's the worst that can happen? Lose a game? Cool, but that doesn't define who I am. I am in the best phase of my life and I am grateful for it."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket