The Proteas Women must refocus for next month’s tour of Australia after going down 5-2 against the White Ferns. We previewed both series in the latest edition of SA Cricket magazine.
When the Ireland cricket authorities finally produced their itinerary for the Proteas Women’s tour in August, it sparked much confusion and consternation. But perhaps it was a blessing in disguise.
The Irish had delayed it so long that CSA had already approved the participation of four of their most senior and influential players in the new English T20 league.
And one of them was the new captain, Dane van Niekerk, who had taken over when Mignon du Preez decided she needed to stand down, after almost five years of poised command, to concentrate on getting her form back.
This was a time of change.
As it turned out, the readjusted Proteas team came back from Ireland triumphant with a resounding 3-1 scoreline in the ODIs and a 1-1 draw in the T20s. There were some solid performances from established players and there was some blossoming new talent. None more so than Laura Wolvaardt, who, at 17 years and 115 days, became the youngest centurion in South Africa when she hammered 105 in the third ODI.
Just for the record, she was 223 days younger than the previous starlet Johmari Logtenberg, who was 17 and 338 days when she cracked a ton against Pakistan in 2007. And Wolvaardt was a full two years younger to score a century than the youngest South African man, Graeme Pollock.
More remarkable was the fact this was just her seventh ODI match in the green and gold, having made her debut against England in February. That hundred boosted her runs total for the four matches to 205 at a strike rate of more than 70. There was also a professional performance from Chloe Tryon, who accumulated 178 from four matches lower down the order and hit eight more sixes than anyone else. Sune Luus also had a great outing, picking up 14 wickets, including two five-fours and demonstrating that she can take a lead role in the absence of the principal women’s trident of Shabnim Ismail, Marizanne Kapp and Van Niekerk.
But to be brutally honest, not too much can be read into the Irish series; against the lowest-ranked ODI side (10) and one that is woefully underfunded and lacks committed support. But you play what’s in front of you and move on. And they did it with a stand-in captain, Dinesha Devnarain, and without the influential cartel of Van Niekerk, Kapp, Ismail and Lizelle Lee.
If there is a negative side, it was in the two losses. T20s can be dismissed more easily than the ODIs, but to say they took their foot off the gas in the last game would be an understatement and it highlighted the glaring flaw of Proteas Women cricket: consistency.
That is an aspect of play that comes up at every Proteas Women’s camp, and it is a discipline that needs to be instilled quickly, for the women face a demanding schedule over the next few months, playing against New Zealand at home in October and Australia away in November.
Those series are vital for the Proteas’ hopes of automatic qualification for the World Cup in England next year, for the first four teams in the ICC Women’s Championship are home and dry, while the bottom four have to fight it out with affiliates for the right to play on the biggest stage.
It will be a worry for coach Hilton Moreeng, for his charges seem to have slipped off the pace. They started so well when the championship started in 2014, beating India and Pakistan 2-1 and drawing 1-1 with Sri Lanka, all away. But more painfully, they lost 2-1 to England and West Indies at home; on each occasion showing they have the game to do it, but each time letting it slip.
Worse was to come for the women, beaten but unbowed headed off to the World T20 with some optimism. It was rapidly and emphatically crushed. Hopefully it is not a portend for the future: The South Africans beat Ireland, but lost to Australia and New Zealand by some margin. They lost to Sri Lanka, too. No one came out of that with much glory: Van Niekerk was the top-scorer with 104 runs from four matches at 45, but at least Luus showed her burgeoning potential by taking seven wickets in 10 overs at 4.70.
Du Preez led the Proteas women in 46 ODIs, 50 T20s and a Test match, but in many ways, Van Niekerk takes over a team with the added pressure of recognition.
It is a team emerging into a brave new world of women’s cricket; one which is getting unprecedented recognition. More resources are being ploughed into the women’s teams around the world, and the advent of the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia and the Kia Super League in England, in which South Africa have been well represented, have raised the women’s profile.
The six South Africans awarded full-time contracts back in 2013 still form the frontline of the team, and six of the eight added to the professional squad subsequently now have two years of full-time experience behind them. Surely, it is time for them to deliver.
By Mark Salter, a freelance sports writer at Highbury Media.