CAPE TOWN - The Proteas are currently second on the ODI rankings.
SO much has been wrong with South African cricket for the past two years. It was possible to believe that nothing would ever go right again, such was the mess.
It was not simply that the game was being woefully administered amidst alleged claims of racism taking the sport down a dark road, but the Proteas men’s team were also just losing too often.
But as the former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher once famously said: “If you want something said, ask a man, if you want something done, ask a woman.”
And that’s exactly what the Proteas women’s team have been doing during this period. They have kept working hard, kept smiling, and most importantly, kept winning.
Since 2020, the Proteas’ women’s team have won successive one-day international series against New Zealand (3-0 away), Pakistan (3-0 home), India (4-1 away) and currently lead the West Indies (3-0 away). The Pakistan series included the first-ever “Black ODI” as the Proteas women's team added their voice and commitment to the fight against femicide and violence against women in SA.
This hot-streak has seen Hilton Moreeng’s team leapfrog current 50-over world champions England into second place behind Australia on the ICC ODI rankings.
After years of being a middle-tier team, where they were better than the lower-ranked sides but often came up short against the powerhouses of women’s cricket, the Proteas will now head to New Zealand for next year’s ICC World Cup as genuine contenders.
“I think the way we have been portraying ourselves on and off the field just shows the world we mean business,” Proteas fast bowler Shabnim Ismail said after the third ODI against the West Indies in Antigua on Monday.
“Yes, it is baby steps towards the World Cup, but the way we are playing our cricket at the moment just shows that when we do go to the World Cup, I am very sure that we are going to give everyone a run for their money there. I am really excited to go to the World Cup for us to show off our talent there as well.”
Having made her international debut back in 2007 when her now teammate Laura Wolvaardt was only just starting junior school, Ismail has certainly seen everything and more with this Proteas team.
She has been an integral part of its transformation from amateur existence to the current professional set-up. Equally, she has seen the development of not only herself, but also the likes of her new-ball partner Marizanne Kapp into the world’s premier all-rounder.
Opener Lizelle Lee is also no longer a home-surface bully, but the world’s No 1 ranked batter who thrives in different conditions. Lee passed 3 000 ODI runs during the West Indies series and is set to surpass veteran middle-order batter Mignon du Preez as SA’s highest ODI run-scorer fairly soon.
Lee has been particularly prolific during the past two years, stroking 781 runs at an average of 65.08, with a strike-rate of 81. Opening partner Wolvaardt has been equally good with 687 runs at 45.80 during this same period, resulting in a world-class partnership that has yielded 2 348 runs at an average of 45.29 for the first wicket.
When those runs are added to Ismail’s 23 wickets at 23.65, Kapp’s 20 at 23.40 and Ayabonga Khaka’s 13 at 18.80 over the past two years, then the spine of a World Cup-winning team is certainly developing.
Add the leadership nous of captain Dane van Niekerk who has returned from injury after Sune Luus performed admirably in the role during her absence, in addition to the emergence of a crop of talented new players such as Lara Goodall, Tumi Sekhukhune, Tazmin Brits, Nonkululeko Mlaba and Anneke Bosch, and the Proteas are shaping up to be a force to be reckoned with in the Land of the Long White Cloud next year.
The upward trajectory of the Proteas has certainly not gone unrewarded with T20 franchises signing up a host of players, who are now all “household names” after competing in Australia’s Big Bash League, England’s The Hundred and the Women’s IPL.
“We have the experience in the camp. The experience factor within the whole group is an asset and it’s really showing. It doesn’t necessarily mean in terms of senior or junior players. Everyone is pulling their weight in the right direction,” Ismail said.
“There are a lot of players in the Big Bash, and obviously coming from The Hundred, the way we are playing our cricket is immense. I think this is the strongest team we have ever had at the moment.”
No senior SA cricket team – male or female – has played in a World Cup final, let alone crowned champions.
But as Britain’s “Iron Lady” said “if you want something done, ask a woman” and there’s no doubt the Proteas women’s team are preparing to shatter yet another class ceiling as they continue to rise.