JOHANNESBURG – The exposure Dane van Niekerk’s team got to West Indies conditions recently will only prove truly beneficial if the lessons learned are properly applied when they return there next month for the Women’s World T20.
The Proteas drew both the ODI and T20 series in the Caribbean, with the same concerns about their inconsistent batting haunting them but they also gained some critical intelligence about the conditions they will face in the World T20 tournament.
Van Niekerk as always was upbeat about her team’s chances when the 15-player squad was announced in Johannesburg on Tuesday, but the South African captain is also a realist and was quick to point out that for all the lessons they learned in the Caribbean it will take a lot of hard work in the next few weeks, for her players to benefit from them.
Pitches were slower, something the players and coaching staff had anticipated, requiring both batsmen and bowlers to make adjustments, while one element that caused surprise, and which will be a factor given the number of matches that will be played under lights at the World T20, was how wet the ball got.
“The ball was soaking and had to be changed twice, we’d not seen that kind of thing other than in Chennai,” said Van Niekerk.
It makes for an added challenge for the spinners, who Van Niekerk admitted will most likely start training with wet balls as part of preparing for the tournament. “We can’t just stand there and complain about the ball being wet, we have to find ways to bowl with a wet ball.”
“It’s not going to be about the best batting team at the world cup, it will be about the best bowling team, that will take the world cup home. The people that handled the pressure better with the bowling came out on top,” said Van Niekerk.
South Africa do have a well-rounded attack, but it’s usually been the seam bowling element - led by Marizanne Kapp and Shabnim Ismael - that’s given them the upper hand over opponents. On the slower surfaces in the Caribbean it will be the spinners, led by Van Niekerk’s leg-spin that will hold the key to South Africa’s success.
“Finding the right pace will be crucial; you don’t want to go too quick because you won’t get the turn and you don’t want to go too slow for them to get underneath (the ball). The trend in women’s cricket now, is that the moment you throw it up they run at you and nine out of ten times, you’re fetching,” said Van Niekerk.
The South African squad will head to the Caribbean on October 23, where they will have a training camp, including a couple of warm-up games. They play their opening match of the tournament against Sri Lanka on November 12.
* There was bad news for the South Africans following that squad announcement when the ICC revealed that it has suspended off-spinner Raisibe Ntozakhe after her action was found to be illegal.
The 21 year old’s action was reported during the first ODI against the West Indies on September 16 and following an independent assessment of her action two weeks later it was found that all of her deliveries “exceeded the 15 degrees of tolerance permitted under the regulations.”
Cricket SA only found out about the ICC suspending Ntozakhe after they’d announced the squad at lunchtime on Tuesday.
By late Tuesday evening CSA had still not revealed if they would announce a replacement or if they were going to give Ntozakhe time to prove she’d corrected her action before the team’s departure in a fortnight.
The SA Squad for the World T20 is:
Dané van Niekerk (capt), Chloe Tryon, Lizelle Lee, Suné Luus, Shabnim Ismail, Masabata Klaas, Mignon du Preez, Marizanne Kapp, Laura Wolvaardt, Raisibe Ntozakhe*, Zintle Mali, Robyn Searle, Tumi Sekhukhune, Saarah Smith, Trisha Chetty.
* Ntozakhe suspended by the ICC.