Women’s cricket has descended on South Africa this year in the form of the Under-19s and senior T20 World Cups. Lisa Keightley could easily have been there with England’s women but, instead, she has been in the same country coaching two World Cup-winning England men’s captains.
Keightley stepped down as England women’s head coach at the end of last summer, having been in post since 2019. The Australian, 51, loved the job, but admits “Covid took a toll” in cutting her off from family back home so she chose to step away.
Not long after, a call came from Kumar Sangakkara, the Sri Lanka great. In his role as director of cricket for the Royals franchise, which started in Rajasthan in the Indian Premier League, he was recruiting coaching staff for Paarl Royals in the new SA20 competition.
“Kumar said he wanted a different set of eyes to come into the game and felt my experience and knowledge in the women’s game, where I’d played and coached for a long time, would be great to get involved,” Keightley tells Telegraph Sport. “He wanted to see things differently than another male coach might have.”
Keightley was appointed tactical performance coach under JP Duminy, which she describes as “involving a bit of everything, just a normal assistant coach”. Soon, she was in charge of Jos Buttler, Eoin Morgan and Jason Roy alongside a host of other domestic and international stars.
Having played for Australia for a decade until 2005 and coached professionally ever since, this was Keightley’s first job in the men’s game. It makes her a real rarity; while women are often involved in men’s back-room teams in a variety of jobs, seldom are they hands-on coaches - despite many men working in the women’s game (including Jon Lewis, who replaced Keightley). Sarah Taylor, the England legend who works specifically with Sussex’s wicketkeepers, is another.
“I get stuck in, I throw, catch and hit balls on game days and at training, and I talk to the players exactly the same way I talk to any cricketer,” says Keightley of working with the likes of Buttler and Morgan.
“I came in not knowing what to expect but have loved every minute. Everything is physically at a quicker pace than I am used to, but there are a lot of similarities across the board, especially in the game’s tactics.”
Keightley has been impressed by the way players have welcomed her, and has observed just one difference between male and female players.
“At the start we were both a little bit nervous, but as we have moved into it I have been really impressed by the group of guys we have,” she says. “It’s been so positive, and I don’t think they have looked at me as a female, and if they have had a question to ask, they’ve asked it. I ask questions of them too.
"It wasn’t that I was a female, it was growing those relationships and getting to know each other. A month in, it’s no different to when I first started in England. Everything is quite natural and easy-flowing.
“People might think there are more egos in the men’s game, but there are lots in the women’s too. The main difference is men tend to park stuff really quickly, once the game is over they brush it off quite quick. They have confidence to go out and start again, leaving stuff behind.”
Keightley jokes that there has been one issue: “It’s usually just finding a toilet where I can go and not worry about walking in on one of the guys. But that’s the exact problem the men coaching in the women’s game have had for years!”
With opportunities popping up through the women’s game, Keightley expects more coaches to follow her into the men’s game.
“I can’t see any reason why it won’t continue to happen, with female coaches coming through the pathway and having those experiences,” she says. “Over time, as the right people come through, it won’t be a barrier, just a great addition to the environment because of the skills and knowledge they bring.”
The SA20 finishes on Saturday, a day after the World Cup starts, so she will watch the majority of the tournament from her home in Perth before her mind turns to other gigs, with Sydney Thunder in the WBBL and perhaps a role in the new Women’s Premier League.
“I love the pressure and intensity of World Cups, the highs and lows,” she says. “I will miss not knowing how you will react until you are under pressure. But in another way I will enjoy just sitting back and not having to deal with it!
“I loved my time with England, so I will follow them closely. I have already exchanged a few texts with Heather Knight and the girls. Heather is a shrewd character. She knows Paarl Royals' home ground is Boland Park, where England start [against West Indies on Saturday], so she has been on to ask about the pitch conditions and the ground. They are playing at Gqeberha [formerly Port Elizabeth], where we played as well. I’ve passed on what knowledge I have gleaned and look forward to watching them.”