Johannesburg - The first half of this year has seen some of the most destructive cricket being played in the women’s game, with the Proteas dishing it out and also having to endure more than a few devastating losses.
On the recently completed limited-overs tour to England, the Proteas felt the brunt of the English when they took them on during their three-match ICC Women’s Championship clash. They were then comprehensively thrashed by New Zealand, whom they faced as part of the T20 tri-series in England.
Coming off a first series whitewash of Bangladesh at home, beating them 5-0 in the one-day internationals (ODIs) and 3-0 in the T20s, the women in gold and green were confident and motivated for their tour to the land of the Queen.
Ahead of their opening encounter, captain Dane van Niekerk said: “A goal we’ve set as a team is to beat England at home. It won’t be easy, but that’s what we’re here for.”
And beat them they did in the opening match, although demolished might be a more accurate term. The historic win over the current world champions – the first win in England in 15 years – was down to the fast-bowling triple threat of Shabnim Ismail, Marizanne Kapp and Ayabonga Khaka. The trio ripped through the English batting order with such ferocity that they had them hanging by a thread or two at 97 for eight.
Instead of cutting the cloth cleanly, the Proteas allowed their hosts to cover themselves with some sort of pride as they limped to 189 for nine in 50 overs. That lack of killer instinct would haunt them throughout the tour.
Dropped catches at key moments, the letting up of pressure when bowling and a slow run rate when batting contributed to South Africa’s next two losses and, consequently, their ninth series loss.
These are not new issues for the team that also faced India at home this year. It relies heavily on the bowling attack, especially on Ismail, Kapp and Khaka. If these three are on song, that confidence permeates the rest of the dressing room. Earlier this year, Against India, who are ranked fourth in the world, South Africa bowled first in all three ODIs and failed to take 10 wickets in the first two, which they promptly lost. When they bowled India out in the third, South Africa’s pedestrian-like strike rate nearly cost them. Against Bangladesh, they failed to bowl the outfit out only once.
Adding to this sentiment is the fact that all three bowlers are in the top 10 of the ICC’s ODI bowling rankings. Despite this, there is one area that coach Hilton Moreeng wants the team to improve on.
“Discipline, especially in the middle overs, hasn’t been good, and we let ourselves down with a lot of boundary deliveries as well as summing up conditions, which takes us a bit longer.”
A clear display was given in the second and third ODIs, when the bowlers bowled beautifully in the first 15 to 20 overs. After that, it was one-way traffic for England as the lines and lengths of the bowlers started to look like a game of twister.
The Proteas need to improve their all-round batting effort and be more clinical on the field if they want to start knocking on title doors and stomping on series wins.
In match two, the Proteas dropped Sarah Taylor on 30, and she went on to make 118 for a player of the match performance. In match three, they dropped Heather Knight on two in the 18th over, while having England on the ropes at 59/2. The English captain went on to score 80 not out and lead her side to the series win.
“We have identified the batting and fielding as something that needs a 360° turnaround, and each and every player has recognised this and realised that we need to up our game,” Moreeng said.
Opener Lizelle Lee has been the player of the season so far, racking up 541 ODI runs and 281 T20 runs, as well as notching her first century this year in belligerent style. Supported by teen sensation Laura Wolvaardt – who became the youngest player to get 12 ODI half-centuries – the opening pair are critical to South Africa’s batting efforts. If either fails, number three ODI all-rounder in the world Van Niekerk can usually lift the team, as she did a few times in England. Beyond that, however, it’s been inconsistent and sometimes cringeworthy to watch as collapses and slow run rates continue to plague the Proteas’ batting performance.
This inconsistency needs to be addressed, said Moreeng, who was disappointed that the players did not get 80-plus scores consistently. If they are to challenge the big four of Australia, England, New Zealand and India, they will have to do a lot better.
The Proteas now look forward to a tour in the West Indies, where they will again look to add to their ICC Women’s Championship tally, which is a qualification tournament for the 2021 World Cup, as well as prepare for the World T20 tournament, which is set to take place in the Caribbean in November. They will play Sri Lanka, England, current T20 champions West Indies and a qualifier that is still to be determined.
The Proteas might have had their wings shed and even shredded, but you better believe that they will rise again bearing the scars of this tour as a warning to any team willing to underestimate them.