South Africa start their tour of New Zealand with an all important three-match ODI series in Auckland on Saturday (January 23). All three games are crucial points for both teams in the ICC Championship, with South Africa one point behind Pakistan in fifth place and the hosts a further two points back on 14 points.
Thankfully, New Zealand, who are hosting the 2021 ICC Women’s World Cup, automatically qualify for the mega event, but South Africa need to win all three games and also hope that a few other results go their way. With the India-Pakistan series in doubt— and points likely to be shared— South Africa’s chances of direct qualification have become more bleak. However, with all that out of their control, there is no doubt Dane van Niekerk and her team will come out all guns blazing in an attempt to topple New Zealand at home.
Back to the main event; New Zealand have a new coach, with Bob Carter taking the reins. The veteran coach has now been involved with New Zealand Cricket at all levels and will certainly provide great support to newly appointed skipper Sophie Devine. How the allrounder responds to the added pressures of captaincy will be interesting to see, considering her recent run of form.
South Africa will look to the fast bowling duo of Marizanne Kapp and Shabnim Ishmal to provide them with early breakthroughs. They will particularly be eyeing the wickets Devine and Suzie Bates, arguably New Zealand’s best batters. The contest between the best new ball bowlers in the world, and two of the most destructive batters the hosts have will be mouth-watering. It is also a contest that could lead one to alter team tactics to manage the battles. Will Carter change the combination and have Devine bat lower in ODIs? Will he bring Rachel Priest back to open with Bates protecting one of his best players? Will South Africa hold back one of Kapp or Ismail to have a go at Devine whenever she walks out to bat?
One would expect the South African quicks to use the short ball as a tactic against the largely front foot dominant players in the New Zealand line-up, most of whom look vulnerable against genuine pace. The visitors’ bowling attack will also severely test New Zealand’s middle order which has previously let them down on several occasions. Without the services of Amy Satterthwaite, the line-up looks even more vulnerable. However, all of Katie Perkins, Maddy Green, Amelia Kerr, and Anna Peterson have been in good form domestically which is encouraging for the home team.
Another issue for the hosts has been their play against quality spin bowling. South Africa have to quality leg-spinning options at their disposal, in captain van Niekerk and Sune Luus, so they will likely be facing close to 20 overs of some very challenging spin.
Finally back at full strength— after an injury-filled year— the South African batting order has a strong feel to it with Lizelle Lee, Laura Wolvaardt, Mignon De Preez, van Niekerk, Luus, Chloe Tryon and Kapp all being able to bat and score quickly. They are well placed to handle a New Zealand attack that will undoubtedly miss the services of Lea Tahuhu.
The spin pair of Kerr and Leigh Kasperek will work as the hosts’ frontline/ wicket-taking options. The quicks could include Holly Huddleston, Rosemary Mair, Devine and Bates, plus the inexperienced inswing of Jess Kerr, who could have her confidence shaken if she does not get it right against Lee and company.
This series has tension, excitement and drama written all over it!
The big question for NZC is what pitches do they prepare? Do they leave a bit of grass on the pitches and have Kapp and Ismail licking their lips or leave the grass off for Kerr, Kasperek, and Peterson to pit their skills against Luus and van Niekerk? Whichever way New Zealand go, South Africa appear to have all bases covered.
While history dictates New Zealand should be clear favourites in this contest, current squad analysis suggests South Africa may be marginally ahead. Their squad looks balanced and their early arrival in the country means they have had enough time to adapt to the conditions as well. Whichever team is able to get off to a good start in the series will likely dominate the rest of the games. Therefore, for both teams, Saturday’s beginning is going to be crucial.
New Zealand: Sophie Devine (c), Suzie Bates, Bernadine Bezuidenhout, Lauren Down, Maddy Green, Holly Huddleston, Hayley Jensen, Leigh Kasperek, Amelia Kerr, Jess Kerr, Rosemary Mair, Katey Martin, Katie Perkins, Anna Peterson, Rachel Priest.
South Africa: Dane van Niekerk (c), Laura Wolvaardt, Lizelle Lee, Mignon du Preez, Sune Luus, Chloe Tryon, Shabnim Ismail, Ayabonga Khaka, Masabata Klaas, Tumi Sekhukhune, Trisha Chetty, Nonkululeko Mlaba, Nadine De Klerk, Nondumiso Shangase, Marizanne Kapp.