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Proteas women’s stuttering middle order biggest concern after shock T20I series defeat to Sri Lanka

Proteas women’s stuttering middle order biggest concern after shock T20I series defeat to Sri Lanka
Proteas skipper Laura Wolvaardt was in good form in T20Is against Sri Lanka, scoring her maiden century in the format. She was also named Player of the Series. (Photo: Richard Huggard / Gallo Images)

A lack of substantial contributions by South Africa’s wobbly middle order saw the side fall to their first series defeat to Sri Lanka — a worrying sign ahead of a T20 World Cup.

The Proteas women suffered their first T20 series defeat to Sri Lanka last week when they were humbled 2-1 by the subcontinent side.

It follows a worrying downward trajectory for the Proteas who have won only four of their last 13 completed T20 matches since the final of the T20 World Cup last year — where they finished as losing finalists.

The big concern for the Proteas is that this is their final series before the start of the next T20 World Cup in Bangladesh starting in September.

Sri Lanka, meanwhile, have travelled well in the shortest format recently, having completed a 2-1 series win over England last year.

For South Africa, it did expose a few glaring weaknesses in the squad heading to the global tournament with no scheduled matches to repair the damage.

South Africa’s fielding and bowling weren’t up with the usual high standards throughout the three-match series with several spilled chances in the field while they failed to defend 137 and 155 in the final two matches.

But the side’s biggest worry was the middle order’s inability to capitalise on fine starts provided by the consistent top-order.

proteas women karabo mesa

Sixteen-year-old wicketkeeper Karabo Meso made her debut for the Proteas against Sri Lanka. (Photo: Richard Huggard / Gallo Images)

There is not too much concern, with coach Hilton Moreeng’s focus for the series on providing opportunities for younger players. The youngest, 16-year-old wicketkeeper Karabo Meso, made her debut in the second match, while 21- and 22-year-olds Eliz-Mari Marx and Annerie Dercksen also played their roles in the series.

“Sri Lanka played very well and deserved their win,” Moreeng said to Daily Maverick. “Some of the youngsters we gave an opportunity to, it was good to see how they went about it. It gave us a lot of information.

“At the end of the day, they just played a better brand of cricket and we just made a lot of mistakes at crucial times, hence we find ourselves in the situation that we’re in… Chances that we created were not taken.”

“The biggest headache for us now is to make sure we address our batting so we can have more consistency, especially from our top five.”

proteas women moreeng wolvaardt

Proteas coach Hilton Moreeng and captain Laura Wolvaardt have much to ponder about the brittle middle order. (Photo: Richard Huggard / Gallo Images)

Moreeng’s hand was partly forced into entrusting the whole squad after senior players Ayabonga Khaka, skipper Laura Wolvaardt and Chloe Tryon were ruled out at various points in the series.

Middle-order muddle

The ever-reliable Wolvaardt was the stand-out batter for the home side, clinching player of the series award after smashing her maiden T20 century in the opening 79-run win as well as knocking a half-century in a losing cause in the series decider on Wednesday.

Premier all-rounder Marizanne Kapp, batting at number three, clubbed 112 runs in three innings as the pair led the run-scoring charts. Anneke Bosch, coming in for an ill Wolvaardt in the second match, clubbed a solid half-century at the top of the order as well.

South Africa’s middle order, though, faltered in building on the starts provided.

After sitting pretty at 94 for two after 11 overs, South Africa lost six wickets for 43 runs in the final nine overs of the second match to finish on 137 for eight.

At 81 for three after the 11th over in the third match, South Africa added only 43 runs in the next seven overs before Nadine de Klerk smashed the penultimate over for 27 to take the score to 155 for six.

“Other than the first game, we haven’t had set batters that take the game away,” Moreeng said. “We had good starts without finishing.”

proteas women luus

The Proteas’ middle order struggled against Sri Lanka. Star batter Suné Luus has been short of runs for almost a year. (Photo: Richard Huggard / Gallo Images)

Regular No 4 Suné Luus, who became the Proteas’ most-capped player in the first match of the series, has been battling for form with the willow for some time. She scored 22 runs in three innings against Sri Lanka and has not passed 50 in the format since scoring an undefeated 61 against Thailand in February 2020.

“Experience is something you always like to have in a squad,” Moreeng said about Luus. “But at the end of the day, a batter’s currency is runs.

“If the runs are not coming, players feel the pressure. From a selection point of view, you back the player because of their experience.

“You give them an opportunity, if it’s not happening (they’re not scoring runs), you have to sit down and plot the way forward.

“There’s been a lot of players around Suné that have been putting up their hands.

“It is also a concern for the player because she is aware of it and she has been working hard.

“What we see on the field is not what we see at practices. She’s been working extremely hard to make it right, but it just hasn’t been happening; but confidence is there from a selection point of view that she can pull through and start scoring runs that we know that she [is capable of].”

50-over focus

South Africa’s record at T20 World Cups has been good in recent years.

After reaching the semi-final stage only once in the first six editions of the tournament, the Proteas women narrowly missed out, via the Duckworth-Lewis method, on a final spot in 2020 before, on home soil last year, becoming the first senior South African side to make a World Cup final.

Despite this, Moreeng believes that T20 is “not [his] side’s best format”.

“We keep improving,” he said. “At the beginning of the season we highlighted that it’s a format where we are trying more combinations and giving youngsters an opportunity to expose them to this level.”

The head coach, who has been in charge of the side for the past 12 years, said, despite the looming T20 World Cup, that his focus was on the 50-over game.

“Regarding the World Cup, I wouldn’t say we’re building,” Moreeng said. “[The series] was more about trying combinations and giving youngsters – who we felt had potential – [an opportunity] to add x-factor to take the game away and bring something different.

“Youngsters like Marx, Dercksen and Karabo [Meso] and we had Ayanda [Hlubi]. Those players were given an opportunity to see how they go, to add to the firepower, especially the all-rounders.

“We felt that in the shorter format, the more all-rounders you have, you give yourself a chance if you bat deep because then you can play that explosive attacking brand of cricket for a long period.

“We’re building more towards the 50-over game, making sure more players are going to come through post this World Cup.

“As far as the World Cup is concerned, the combinations we’ve tried gave us a lot of information. We’re on the right track with what we wanted to see.”

The Proteas now turn their attention to a three-match One-day International series against Sri Lanka which starts on Tuesday at Buffalo Park in East London — the same venue the sub-continent side claimed a four-wicket win in the final T20I. DM

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