JOHANNESBURG – Just how much concern should there be about losing a “warm-up” match? In the case of the Proteas men's side, not so much, apparently, for they followed up a defeat to a Prime Minister’s XI in Canberra last Wednesday with a win when it really mattered in the opening ODI against Australia four days later.
The Proteas women’s team have, however, suffered not one, not two, not even three, but four straight defeats in the warm-up games they’ve played ahead of their start in the Women’s World T20 tournament next Tuesday (2am SA time).
And look, warm-up games ultimately are meaningless. Teams experiment, as South Africa did against Australia on Wednesday, with skipper Dane van Niekerk not even giving herself a bat and rather allowing some of the lower order some important time in the middle.
But four defeats can’t be good, especially when those defeats highlighted the major flaw with the South African team - the alarming inconsistency with the bat and the over-reliance on opener Lizelle Lee.
South Africa’s highest total in the four warm-up matches was 143, in a three-run defeat to India. In two other matches, they made 72 against Pakistan and 84 against tournament favourites Australia.
Van Niekerk’s team are in the “easier” of the tournament’s two groups along with England, hosts and defending champions the West Indies, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, and the pre-tournament forecast is that the group will unfold as a battle between the Proteas and the West Indies to join England in the semi-finals.
Of course, the vagaries of the game’s shortest format mean teams are brought closer together and it may be that in conditions which are low and slow and will assist spin, Sri Lanka could come to the fore, too.
But what the South Africans would have wanted is some show of form to build confidence. They have little of either ahead of their opening match against Sri Lanka. Experience then counts for plenty and all-rounder Marizanne Kapp pointed to her own experience playing in some of the premier domestic T20 leagues in Australia and England.
“We would have liked to win every single game but I’m a believer in peaking at the right time.
“I’ve seen in the sides I’ve played for - the (Sydney) Sixers (Women’s Big Bash League) and the Surrey Stars (Super League). The years we won were actually the years we started off so badly and people said that we should rather come back and try again next year and we ended up winning both of those tournaments after starting that way. I think it’s not about how you start, it’s about how you end,” said Kapp.
She’s right and hopefully that’s the message being imparted to the rest of the team as well.
South Africa continue to carry the tag of “dark horses”, as was the case for the 50-over World Cup last year, and England captain Heather Knight and Australia skipper Meg Lanning again pointed out that the presence of Kapp, Van Niekerk and Lee in tournaments like the Big Bash and Super League had aided the Proteas’ growth.
But SA need to move out of England and Australia’s shadows, a bit like the West Indies team did in India two years ago, and make their appearances in these ICC events count.
They must hope that all the cobwebs have been shaken off during those warm-up games and that the batting does indeed click, lest they return from the Caribbean having regressed as a team.