Cricket: SA women’s baptism by fire
South Africa lost their opening T20 to England by nine wickets on Monday, with the gulf in class and experience being vastly evident. Still, the team has made great strides in a very short space of time and what they lack in experience, they make up for in heart. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
In professional sport, disappointment is magnified and scrutiny is always emphasised. Slip up and your errors are dissected in every way possible. South Africa’s women’s cricket team learned this the hard way when they lost to England by nine wickets in the first of three T20s on Monday night at Chelmsford.
The women are on their first tour as fully contracted professionals and played competitive cricket for the first time since the ICC World T20 earlier in the year. The gulf in professional experience was stark, though. While England has been running like a well-oiled machine for a good few years, South Africa is still taking baby steps towards being a team. There is not a single player in the South African team who has played over 50 T20s. England has five players with that kind of experience. Charlotte Edwards, England’s captain, has been playing international cricket since 1996.
England won the toss and elected to bowl first and South Africa looked stuck for most of its innings. Slow tracks didn't assist the team, but their general application came up fairly short, too. While Dane van Niekerk and Mignon du Preez look like textbook players - the kind of cricketers you'd quite happily put forward for a tutorial - their inability to pick the gaps as the innings needed to accelerate exemplified their lack of experience. South Africa managed just 89 runs and many would have been asking how on earth that kind of score was even possible in a T20.
However, the average total for women's T20s is only about 108. For those to whom the women’s game is still something new, that might seem like a low total, but the two codes are not comparable. Unless, of course, you are particularly disdainful towards the England men’s team; then you can say that they batted comparatively more slowly in their one-day affair with India on Tuesday.
Female cricketers often take the more cautious and steady path, but on Monday, that easy-does-it approach cost South Africa. Having picked the gaps quite easily early in their innings, they simply couldn’t do this later on. Having batted out the 20 overs, losing just four wickets but still registering a sub-100 total was poor, and once again highlighted just how far the team still has to go in order to improve. Attacking – both with calculated risks and a few more foolish ones – is something the women still need to learn. Although they tried to attack, the selection of shots during this time were those of a team that wasn’t sure what to do in such pressure situations. The South African team’s caution with the bat was, perhaps, borne out of the fear of embarrassing themselves and instead of taking the game to England, they first ensured they weren’t completely flattened.
The bowling effort from South Africa was better, and although they never looked completely threatening, there is enough promise to work with. Still, South Africa’s inability to accurately read and play to the conditions once again exposed just how far the team needs to go. Simple things, like the end from which the left-armer Moseline Daniels bowled to keeping spinners on when the ball was not gripping, were all signs of the big strides the women’s team still needs to make in order to compete with the likes of England and Australia.
South Africa will just be happy that their most recent televised outing wasn’t the complete disaster that saw them capitulate against England in the World T20. Nobody wants women’s cricket to be fluffy when assessed; that would demean it. However, when looking at their journey in the greater context, there are many positives for a team which has already grown rapidly in the course of just a few months. They have gone from not having contracts, or a full-time coach, to having 14 contracts, a coach and a training camp at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria. Dane van Niekerk and Marizanne Kapp made history last year when they became the first two women to be inducted at the Eastern Province academy, playing against boys. The experience, the two women say, was quite intimidating, but aided their game quite significantly. Kapp also became the first South African woman to play at Lord’s, when she ran out for The Rest of the World XI against the MCCXI.
While women’s cricket might have been around since the 1800s as a legitimate career option, it is still quite novel in South Africa. In order for interest in the sport to grow, it needs to be more competitive and balanced, but that will only come with time. The South African squad is a young one, with just two players - Marcia Letsoalo and Sunette Loubser - over the age of 27. This is a team with immense potential that will only grow if the current structures remain in place. They might not beat England on this tour, but they have a big chance to learn through their baptism of fire. DM
Photo: England's Charlotte Edwards (L) hugs teammate Katherine Brunt after England won the second womens T20 international against Australia and secured the Ashes at the Rose Bowl cricket ground, Southampton August 29, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown