~ The former World Cup-winning batter from Australia & former coach of England women’s team is hoping her move to join Paarl Royals’ coaching staff can pave the way for more women to coach their counterparts ~

With a little less than a month left for South Africa’s new explosive T20 league – SA20, Royals Sports Group-owned franchise Paarl Royals are setting their sights on their debut match against MI Cape Town in the season opener at Newlands in Cape Town on 10th January. In what is going to be a season of firsts for South Africa and for the Paarl Royals, another first is with the franchise having enrolled former Australia women’s international and World Cup winner Lisa Keightley as the Tactical Performance Coach.

The 51-year-old who left her role as the Head Coach of the England women’s team earlier this year is leading the way for women to coach in the men’s format, and expressed her thoughts all the way from Sydney. “As a coach, you always want to keep building and evolving, and to be going into the men’s game as the first-ever woman coach, is an aspect where I feel I can use my experience of coaching for the last 7-8 years, and hopefully add value to the Paarl Royals,” said Keightley.

“I know a few other females in sport that have gone into the men's set up, and they've always said that it's been fantastic. For me, it’s about coaching and helping the players get a better understanding of the game and see it from a different perspective. I think by working with the other coaching staff who probably have more experience in the men's set up, hopefully I can combine what we do in the women's game and then have a look of how it can benefit the men’s game,” added Keightley, who won the World Cup with Australia in 2005.

Asked how the role came about, Keightley said it was Royals’ Director of Cricket, Kumar Sangakkara who approached her. “Well, I wasn’t extending my contract with England because it was tough for me during COVID to stay away from Australia for long periods of time. And then I first heard of the opportunity from Kumar, who was looking to get some coaches involved in the set-up with the prospect of getting a female on-board for a different perspective to the game itself. Hence, it sounded like an interesting opportunity after we had a couple of chats, and I’m delighted to be joining the team,” she said.

T20 is a format that has progressed at a rapid pace since its inception in the mid-2000s, and Lisa says she’s keen on bringing her inputs from the women’s game. “I suppose with England, I was really big on the tactical aspect and bringing the analytical part into play, and then working out strategies on which bowlers and which batters match up. So, it will be about working with our analysts, looking at teams with respect to our strengths and their strengths and how different players will match up against each other. My job will be to assist JP (Duminy) and give him various options which we can consider.”

Quizzed if her move to work with a men’s cricket team will pave the way for more women coaches to follow suit, Lisa said, “I don't see a reason why not. I've coached domestically and internationally for 17 years now so there’s definitely something that I can offer to the men’s game. Like I mentioned, providing a different way of looking at strategies and bringing in some positive things from the women’s game should make an impact. I would love for more female coaches to come and contribute to the men’s game.”

“An example of that is Matthew Mott who worked with both the men’s and women’s teams. So if we could cross over like that, I mean that would be pretty special,” she said.

Commenting on the impact the league will have on the host country, Lisa said, “For South Africa to have a league like this and being able to bring overseas players in will certainly lift the standard and reinvigorate their domestic structure. It's going to be really competitive as all teams are very equally balanced. I think the revenue they will be able to put back into their domestic structure will help move South African cricket forward. It will also mean a lot to the domestic players who will have the chance to play with international stars like Jos Buttler and gain experience from that, while it also creates a lot of excitement among the spectators.”

Looking at it from a women’s game perspective in South Africa, Keightley said she hopes the money that is generated “can go back into grassroots which can assist the women’s programmes.” She added, “We all know that South Africa is a fantastic country for sport, and eventually it’s a competition that should also pave the way for a women’s set-up that can match the likes of the Women’s Big Bash or The Hundred. That will only go on and provide a bigger player pool for the nation when it comes to women’s cricket like it has done in Australia and England.”

Having been associated with the Royals brand for the first time, the former batter also commented on her impression of the franchise from the outside. “I have watched the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL, and I know they did pretty well last season. I’ve also known them because I knew Shane Warne was associated with them, and as an Aussie, I would always keep an eye out. I’ve also heard some amazing things from everyone that I’ve spoken to in the cricket world about how they are a well-run franchise.”

There’s a lot of talk around the women’s IPL, and Lisa says she would be open to working in the league if the opportunity presents itself. “There is no doubt that I would love to get involved if the Rajasthan Royals have a team in the women’s IPL. I think if India do it well, their women's team is going to be very hard to stop and they could really make a big imprint and get a lot closer to the other teams, and win some big titles because they’ve got some good players. I think for the Indian women's cricket team, and the fans, they should get really excited because I think it's going to create some really good Indian cricketers that can handle pressure and perform in big games, while also giving them more depth.”

With any new team or organization, it is important to have some values to build on, and Lisa says unity as a group will play a huge role in determining how the teams perform at SA20. “I think the first season is always about getting to know each other really well. So it involves doing activities together as a group, and I think we’ve got some players who have played together at some point. It is also important to establish to them what they need to do on the field, and how we need to focus on all three facets of the game equally. For me, I think it is about making sure we dominate and take it to the teams. Also the last thing is that you need to enjoy it and have fun as a group."