Dane van Niekerk’s team head to the UK tonight for a three match One-Day series that starts in Worcester next Saturday, and then a triangular T20 series that also features New Zealand and is part of the team’s preparations for the World T20 that takes place later in the year.
Since Van Niekerk took over as captain two years ago the change in mindset of the players has been noticeable. No longer just happy to compete, they now want and know they can win games – an attitude that was instrumental in their dramatic run to the World Cup semi-finals last year.
“To beat them,” was Van Niekerk’s response to an enquiry about their target for the series. “We owe them one after the World Cup.”
That semi-final, decided in the last over, was a groundbreaking moment for the team, not just in terms of raising the profile of the players in the eyes of the South African public, but also signalling to them that they do belong at the top table of women’s cricket.
“After the World Cup I think there was a realisation for the players, that these tours are not about seeing what we can do and learning, we now want to improve our ranking, and to do that you must take on teams like England, New Zealand and Australia we need to starting winning those series,” said the team’s coach Hilton Moreeng
In order to do that, improve, and to avoid the anguish which engulfed them that afternoon in Bristol, one area that has come in for close attention was the batting and particular the need to be more aggressive.
“The strike rate is something we’ve discussed,” said Moreeng. “There is a benchmark in world cricket. So what do we need to change? Batters set up games, and we need consistency, and as well as we played against Bangladesh, there was nothing in the 100s column and that is something we need as a team to improve and take seriously. There’s been steady improvement in the last two years, and the strike rate is something we assess series by series and we look over the course of a season to see how it is improving.”
The major victim of this new attacking approach was Trisha Chetty who was axed from the squad for the England tour. It’s a significant step given Chetty is one of just two players who has played over 100 ODIs for the Proteas, but it points to just how seriously the coaching staff and selectors are about the batsmen needing to be more attacking.
Chetty didn’t score enough runs in the recent series against Bangladesh and has been struggling for form at the top of the order for a year. Her overall strike rate of 65.51 may long ago have been deemed good enough, but evidently that is no longer the case.
The players have been pushed to increase their scoring rates to the high 70s (runs scored per 100 balls faced). Van Niekerk knows it’s not something that’s beyond the players, and pointed to the group match against England at the World Cup last year as an example of what they are capable of.
England had totalled 373/5 batting first and although South Africa lost, they did score 305/9 in reply. “Those were not things we were previously able to do,” she said.
Nevertheless, as has become the norm with the batting, it’s about being more aggressive and doing so on a consistent basis. The demands on the top order are big; for all her great talent Laura Wolvaardt needs to be scoring her runs better than her current strike rate of 63.28, while her opening partner Lizelle Lee, in Chetty’s absence, also has to carry the wicket-keeping duties along with her batting responsibilities.
South Africa may take a T20 experiment – the use of Sune Luus at no.3 – and try it in the 50 over format as a further way of looking to attack the English bowling early.
Whatever they come up with, the expectations for Van Niekerk’s side are no longer what they once were. “It is no longer a learning experience, we played more ODIs than any other country last year. We are going there to compete and win a series,” said the South African captain.
Squad: Dané van Niekerk (capt), Lizelle Lee, Chloe Tryon, Mignon du Preez, Marizanne Kapp, Shabnim Ismail, Ayabonga Khaka, Masabata Klaas, Raisibe Ntozakhe, Suné Luus, Laura Wolvaardt, Andrie Steyn, Zintle Mali, Stacey Lackay, Tazmin Brits
June 9: 1st ODI, Worcester
June 12: 2nd ODI, Brighton
June 15: 3rd ODI, Canterbury
June 20: T20 v New Zealand, Taunton
June 23: T20 v England, Taunton
June 28: T20 v New Zealand, Taunton