Johannesburg - Apprehension and excitement is flowing through the Proteas squad ahead of the historic one-off Test against England starting in Taunton on Monday.
There was disappointment too on Sunday with news from the camp that three senior players; Shabnim Ismail (calf strain), Chloe Tryon (hip) and Ayabonga Khaka, weren’t available for the match. In Khaka’s case, she is not being considered for the Test format, which does seem strange given the skill she has shown with the ball in the limited overs formats.
The absence of Ismail, especially, is an enormous blow for the Proteas to absorb. Her new ball partnership with Marizanne Kapp was viewed as one of the vital weapons in South Africa’s arsenal. The two are also among just five players in the squad with experience of playing a Test.
Sune Luus, who will captain the team and make her Test debut, remained sanguine about her side’s chances. “Look, it would have been nice to have those senior players available, but it has not worked out that way. It’s not that a big setback, all the players we have here are very skilful, we still have a good team for the match,” said Luus.
Even if Tryon, who played in the Proteas’s last Test in Mysore in 2014 against India and Ismail, who played against the Netherlands in 2007 - had been available, South Africa would still have started the match against Heather Knight’s team with at least six debutants.
It’s very much a journey into the unknown for Luus, who attempted to downplay her side’s chances. “It’s our first Test in eight years and many of us have never played a Test. We are not expecting miracles, but once we step over the boundary, we’ll give it our best shot, and see how each session unfolds and take it from there,” she explained.
“I’ve not played a Test, so don’t know what it's about or how it goes but I think we’ll all have a better understanding of it (at the end of the week). England’s players have obviously played a lot more Tests … it’s a good challenge of your skills, you have to be on top of your game and concentrate for long periods of time, which will obviously be a great test for some of the players. It should be a great introduction for us this week to Test cricket.”
Excitement abounds, with the players getting their white playing kit, and green Test caps on Saturday. “It’s obviously a massive opportunity and a great honour for us to be wearing our Test caps for the first time - there are a lot of people making debuts tomorrow and it’s going to be a very special day for all of us.”
Last week’s three day match against England A and a couple of training games organised at Cricket SA’s Centre for Excellence in Tshwane, for those not involved in T20 Leagues like Luus, has been the only experience many of the players have had of three or four day cricket. “We had our three day match (against England A), which created a lot of discussion, just to work on game plans and what is required in certain situations. But I think it will be a work in progress, as the game goes on we will learn more and more and take it a session at a time,” said Luus.
Understandably a lot will be asked of those with Test experience, like Kapp, Trisha Chetty and Lizelle Lee.
“Kapp is going to be crucial. With all her experience, I’m going to lean on her in the bowling side, to talk to the younger pace bowlers and manage that. She has a great understanding of the skill, I have no doubt she’ll be open to help out wherever,” Luus remarked.
Adding to the challenge for the Proteas is the weather with forecasters predicting rain in Taunton for all four days. But the novelty of simply playing a Test supersedes everything else in the Proteas camp. “Personally I’m very excited, it’s obviously a dream to play a Test match, which is not a big thing in women’s cricket. Hopefully we can make the most of this opportunity so that there can be more opportunities in the future,” said Luus.
Play is scheduled to start at noon on Monday. SuperSport will be broadcasting the match.
South Africa: Anneke Bosch, Trisha Chetty, Nadine de Klerk, Lara Goodall, Shabnim Ismail, Sinalo Jafta, Marizanne Kapp, Ayabonga Khaka, Lizelle Lee, Suné Luus (capt), Nonkululeko Mlaba, Tumi Sekhukhune, Andrie Steyn, Chloé Tryon, Laura Wolvaardt.
England: Heather Knight (capt), Tammy Beaumont, Lauren Bell, Kate Cross, Alice Davidson-Richards, Freya Davies, Charlie Dean, Sophia Dunkley, Sophie Ecclestone, Amy Jones, Emma Lamb, Nat Sciver, Issy Wong.