South Africa – now or never
“Youngsters” have been the focus of South Africa in the lead up to the T20 World Cup 2020. As a result, they have just three players who are aged 30 or above. They bred a lot of youngsters as they were building up the tournament.
“We knew we were going to Australia after going to New Zealand. So we needed to make sure that we gave everyone a chance before we could come to the 15,” Hilton Moreeng, the coach of South Africa, tells Women’s CricZone.
The conditions in Australia are not too different from that in South Africa – seam and bounce are terms as common in both places as ‘stocks’ in financial markets.
For South Africa, the return of Dane van Niekerk, Chloe Tryon as well as Trisha Chetty and Marizanne Kapp – both of whom had missed the T20Is against India – came as a shot in the arm, after they missed most of 2019. They also have two ‘new’ spinners in Nonkululeko Mlaba and Nondumiso Shangase, both of whom are pretty young.
“We’ve all played together for a while. It made life easier,” says van Niekerk about regrouping as a side. “Our team did really well given the circumstances and the injured players. Sune (Luus) did a good job (without) Chloe, (who) is hard to replace when it comes to the dynamics.”
Players like Lizelle Lee, Mignon du Preez, Shabnim Ismail, Tryon, Kapp and van Niekerk were a part of the latest season of the Women’s Big Bash League. That could mean that there will be a lot of information exchanged in the dressing room – about conditions, tactics and much more. But the execution will be the key, given that they hardly have time to acclimatize to the conditions Down Under.
For a team that last made its semi-final appearance in a T20 World Cup in 2014, it’s all about taking one game at a time. But the tourney in 2020 could be a case of now or never.
Over the years, apart from other things, bat sponsors have signified the stature and standing of the player in the side. MRF bats were often used by the ‘star’ players or ‘top’ performers – Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Steve Waugh, more recently Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers… Mignon du Preez uses the same brand and, irrespective of that, it’s tough to keep your eyes off her – whether with the bat or on the field.
This has been a Mignon du Preez 2.0 of sorts, that we are seeing. In 2019, she turned up for Loughborough Lightning in the Women’s Cricket Super League. She scored 267 runs in nine innings for them. What caught the eye was her impressive strike rate – 147.51 per 100 balls. More recently in the fifth season of the Women’s Big Bash League, she scored 404 runs in 14 matches at a strike rate of close to 121.
These numbers may not be staggering given the class of du Preez, but they are so because she historically hasn’t had such strike rates. In 2016, she had a strike rate of 96.40 in the format and then in 2018, she struck them at 108.30. The number jumped to 122.10 in T20Is in 2019.
Like a glue, du Preez would be expected to hold together the middle order of South Africa and that will, to a great extent, dictate how they progress in the tournament. The team may bank on Lizelle Lee for quick starts at the top, on Chloe Tryon and Marizanne Kapp for the bludgeoning hits down the order but du Preez’s presence in the South African middle order will be the ice to the rest of the line-up’s fire.
One to Watch:
“I met Tumi Sekhukhune when she was quite young,” Shabnim Ismail had told Women’s CricZone when South Africa had toured India in 2019. “For me to see her perform so well makes me happy as a person.” The young seamer was the leading wicket-taker in the T20 series between South Africa Emerging and Bangladesh Emerging in 2019. Before that she had played in the T20 World Cup 2018 as well.
But Sekhukhune’s growth as a player has increased the confidence of the team management in her. According to Moreeng, the allrounder “who is just starting to find her feet in international cricket” has a “very good cricket brain. She is definitely one for the future.” Even captain van Niekerk is happy to have a player like Sekhukhune, who brings in a lot of energy. “She does everything that she does with 120% commitment,” she says. “She is very young but it feels that she has been there forever. I think she plays a very key role in the middle with her bowling specially with her change ups and how consistent she can land the ball in a certain area.”
The right-arm seam bowler has 14 wickets in the 19 T20Is she has played. Her athleticism on the field apart from her contributions with the ball is something that South Africa can take pride from. No doubt, she will be one to have a close eye on. If she has a tremendous T20 World Cup, South Africa could surely be backed to reach their first semi-final since they did so in 2014.
Ask van Niekerk, or even Moreeng and you will understand that they don’t want to talk up a potential top four finish. “Just focus on what we do as a team and not on other teams,” says van Niekerk. “I think we have got a very strong team and we’ve got a lot of match-winners and world class players.”
True. Given the squad that the Rainbow Nation has put up, it has the looks of having all bases covered. And as a result, anything less than a top-four finish would leave them with wounds that would take some time and a lot of efforts to heal.
Squad: Dane van Niekerk (c), Laura Wolvaardt, Lizelle Lee, Mignon du Preez, Marizanne Kapp, Sune Luus, Chloe Tryon (vc), Shabnim Ismail, Ayabonga Khaka, Masabata Klaas, Tumi Sekhukhune, Trisha Chetty, Nonkululeko Mlaba, Nadine de Klerk, Nondumiso Shangase.
February 23: England v South Africa in Perth (WACA)
February 28: South Africa v Thailand in Canberra (Manuka Oval)
March 1: South Africa v Pakistan in Sydney (Showground)
March 3: West Indies v South Africa in Sydney (Showground)