OPINION: Van Niekerk has engineered the positive shift in the Proteas team
It really is getting ridiculous now.
Dané van Niekerk’s team had actually fought back brilliantly with the ball in that semi-final against Australia yesterday - and did so again with the bat.
South Africa has never beaten Australia, but make no mistake, Van Niekerk’s team fully believed they could yesterday.
That is a significant shift in mindset that over and above everything else that has improved with the Proteas, she is almost overwhelmingly responsible for engineering.
Under Van Niekerk, South Africa have moved from being a team that says it wants to win a World Cup, to one that genuinely believes it will do it.
It was a very fine World Cup campaign, one meticulously planned and until the shortened PowerPlay yesterday, a campaign that had been brilliantly executed.
Coach Hilton Moreeng deserves a lot of credit in that regard.
I have written in this space before that I felt his time as the Proteas’ head coach was over. He had taken the team as far as he could with that run to the semi-finals of the 50 over World Cup in England being the highlight of his tenure.
That campaign also finished in tears with defeat in the final over to the eventual champions England.
South Africa seemed to stagnate thereafter. Certainly the 2018 T20 World Cup campaign was a poor one, ending in the group stages, with two very bad performances against the West Indies and England.
The team looked like they were in need of a new voice, someone with fresh ideas to make them take the next step.
There are, as have been mentioned numerous times, several world class players in that South African team - Van Niekerk, Marizanne Kapp, Shabnim Ismail, Chloe Tryon, Lizelle Lee and lately, Laura Wolvaardt.
What they needed was toughening up and a means to develop better strategies.
Moreeng in the last few months has started to bring that out of them.
South Africa’s fielding was much improved in this tournament, despite a few lapses against Thailand and Pakistan.
The emergence of left-arm spinner Nonkululeto Mlaba has been a key part of the strategy for this year’s T20 World Cup and Van Niekerk’s use of her against certain batters and at particular times in the innings has been very good.
The One-Day series win in New Zealand, prior to the T20 World Cup, was a critical step in this side’s development.
They showed poise and power against a key rival at venues where next year’s 50 over World Cup will take place.
Yesterday’s outcome is going to hurt - a lot.
Hopefully the effects are not long-term for in the immediate future there is a One-Day series against Australia in this country later this month.
In the long-term there is that 50-over World Cup, which, following the heartache in England three years ago, became a major target for many of the players.
The disappointment from this year’s T20 World Cup, needs to fuel them for that campaign.
Moreeng, who deserves plenty of credit for revitalising the team and his own coaching methods, should be at the helm for that tournament.