In the last few weeks, the South African women’s team has been all about making history. First, they beat England in a T20 for the first time ever. Then they beat the West Indies in a T20 for the first time ever. And, just for good measure, they won their first ever T20 series against the West Indies.
The women will be looking to add to their list of milestones when they face Australia in their opening fixture of the World T20 later this week, and the confidence they gained from the historic victories has given them a boost heading into the tournament.
“This is probably the best confidence booster we could have asked for,” captain Mignon Du Preez told Daily Maverick.
“Having not beaten the West Indies and then do it twice is something special. Hopefully we can carry the momentum into the World T20, but we know that it’s not just something that’s going to happen, especially with the different conditions,” she added.
That momentum will go a long way in ridding themselves of the scars of the past. The last time they played in the World T20, they made it to the semi-finals and then capitulated against England, collapsing to 101 all out with only Chloe Tryon (40) and Du Preez making it into double figures. That traumatic loss is something South Africa just want to forget, though, and with three convincing T20 wins under their belts, they have every reason to believe.
“We’ve proved to ourselves when we played against England that we are better than that. We’re just going to stay positive and focus on the task at hand,” Du Preez says.
That does not mean South Africa think they are immune to improvements. While they have shown that they can win clutch chases recently, their ability to accelerate towards the backend of the over remains an issue, especially when batting first.
In India, where the wickets are flatter and the outfields faster, this should be easier, especially with big hitters like Marizanne Kapp and Lizelle Lee in the side. Tryon also looks likely to return from injury in time for the tournament, which will bolster the side. The captain is under no illusions, though, and admits that batting towards the latter part of the innings needs to improve.
Integral to that improvement will be the return of Tryon, who missed the series after fracturing her pinkie in the ODI series. But the big-hitting will be just one part of the puzzle. They will need cool heads at the top of the order and as far as experience goes, no other South African player has more T20 caps than opener Trisha Chetty, but her inconsistent form has been a worry. With the gloves, she is invaluable, so South Africa will hope that whatever is troubling her can be shaken off before their campaign begins in India.
For all their batting concerns, though, South Africa’s bowlers seem to have hit some of their best form. Shabnim Ismail’s aggression and Dane van Niekerk’s spin wizardry means that the captain always has a different option to turn to. Van Niekerk will be especially useful on the turning wickets in India.
Sadly, though, South Africa’s warm-up matches have put somewhat of a dampener on their prolific results on home soil.
They lost their first opening fixture against TNCA City Juniors, an under-17 boys’ team, by nine wickets. Kapp, who will be South Africa’s key batter in the tournament, was the standout player with an unbeaten 53 off 55 as South Africa managed a meagre total of just 104 in 20 overs. Chetty was the only other player who managed to get into double figures and the relatively empty wickets column will be somewhat of a concern.
The women also struggled in their second warm-up fixture against England, losing by seven wickets with 21 balls remaining. Not too much should be read into these pre-tournament results, however, which are often a function of jitters and adjusting to conditions.
Looking at South Africa’s group, they are expected to reach the semi-finals, something they would not have expected in their wildest dreams even two years ago. DM
South Africa’s group opponents, by date of match and results against them
Australia, 18 March
Played three, lost three
Australia have been professionalising women’s cricket for far longer than South Africa has and this will probably be the Proteas’ toughest match in the group stages. However, the Aussies are not unbeatable and just recently lost a series 0-3 to India in Australia. While that says as much about women’s cricket improving across the board as it does about Australia’s fallibility, South Africa’s women should take great confidence from that result, especially considering they have a spin wizard like Dane van Niekerk in their midst.
Ireland, 23 March
Played seven, won seven
Out of all the games, this is probably the one South Africa can feel most confident about. Ireland are still very much lagging behind when it comes to women’s cricket and playing them should be seen as an opportunity to really make an impression.
New Zealand, 26 March
Played four, won one, lost three
South Africa’s solitary win against New Zealand is probably the victory that led to everyone sitting up and taking notice of the women’s side. That victory came in the previous edition of the Women’s World T20 and ensured South Africa progressed to the semi-finals ahead of the Black Caps. Two years ago a victory over New Zealand was a monumental achievement for the team. Now, it’s one that they should believe they can achieve.
Sri Lanka, 28 March
Played seven, won five, lost two
As with the fixture against Ireland, South Africa have to view the match against Sri Lanka as one that they are expected to win. The Proteas are lucky enough to be in what might be considered the easier of the two groups so there will be no easy matches when the knockouts come around and building confidence and momentum for the semi-finals is vital. This is also the only one of South Africa’s group fixtures which will be broadcast.
A candle's flame in zero gravity is round and blue.
Daily Maverick © All rights reserved