Purely from a South African perspective, the kind of white-ball form that the tourists (currently in New Zealand) have displayed against a mighty competitive side isn’t the most productive or noteworthy one.
For if one were to rewind the clocks back to the 2016-17 season, a time where despite playing at home, the Proteas Women v White Ferns series proved rather lackluster, offering nothing exciting for South African fans.
Nearly around a quarter of a year back, South Africans seemed rather clueless in what proved a one-sided ODI outing in which they were tasked by New Zealand, then led by Suzie Bates.
In the 7 games held back in 2016 in South Africa, the hosts were able to win only 2 contests, going down on 5 occasions.
In one of those games, they were unable to chase down a 128. In another contest, they were bundled out for 113. In 2 games that series, despite batting first, the Proteas women failed to put on 200 on the board.
But constant struggles to put up scores that were even competitive, if not hefty, weren’t the only problems that South Africa faced. It wasn’t that the side didn’t feature the big performers it is currently fielding in New Zealand.
The likes of trailblazing leg spinner Dane van Niekerk, the foxy Sune Luus, the hard-hitting Lizelle Lee, and the ever-reliable Mignon du Preez were all around. It’s just that against an attacking quartet- one among the world’s best in international cricket- including Lea Tahuhu, Suzie Bates, Sophie Devine, and Amy Satterthwaite- the Proteas never really got going.
That the outcome of the Proteas women vs White Ferns limited-over series proved a dull sight for South Africa fans was also down to exhibition of a very high class of medium pace bowling by Holly Huddleston.
Could she be among the undersung figures in the current game?
That the right-armer known for bowling miserly spells captured 10 wickets whilst not even featuring in every contest made the Protean plight an unmanageable one.
Her best bowling would come in the 3rd game of the series, right at the back of SA’s win in the second game. A fifer culminating into a match-winning spell of 5 for 25 would- since then- emerge as the best bowling figures by a White Ferns medium-pacer against South Africans.
What’s rather interesting about Huddleston, who featured in yesterday’s ODI, is that not even a Bates or Devine-225 ODIs between them- have managed a five-wicket haul.
In fact, even before Protea’s Women hit the Kiwi shores, they had one primary goal in mind.
Now, post the completion of their win, which they claimed rather handsomely, it appears that Niekerk’s side is graduating toward it swiftly. The aim was always to qualify for the Women’s Cricket World Cup 2021 (50-over World Cup).
But where the team’s 2019 form served an example, a string of big absences of regular core members of the unit- Dane van Niekerk, Chloe Tyron, Marizanne Kapp- made their journey difficult than usual.
Maybe that’s why the much-needed win in the opening game of the 3-match ODI series matters all the more.
Who doesn’t want to begin the new year with a bang?
Perhaps the victory in the first ODI is also why, the team that punched its weight comfortably against New Zealand- not the easiest of sides to beat considering it features performers of a very high class in Bates, Devine, Kerr, Perkins- seemed an all-round unit.
Therefore, in the context of the series, SA’s effort made the Proteas Women v White Ferns a highly watchable contest.
But that said, the ongoing series, a prequel to the much-awaited T20 World cup kick-starting in February- is vital not only for the Proteas but also for their hosts.
While on the one hand, veterans Dane Van Niekerk, Marizanne Kapp, Ayabonga Khaka, and Chloe Tryon return to the squad, the captain marking a return to white-ball duties following an 11-month injury layover, the White Ferns once again feature the experienced big-hitter in Rachel Priest and the very useful middle-order batswoman in Katie Perkins.
That Perkins is so crucial for New Zealand, especially in the absence of former skipper Amy Satterthwaite- who scored fluently during Proteas’ rout in the 2016 ODIs- was understood by the fact that the returning right-hander made a career-best 78 off just 83 balls in the maiden ODI of the series.
Now, the Proteas Women seem a formidable bunch, powered by the presence of not one or two but 3 all-rounders in Luus, Niekerk, and Kapp.
The top order, bolstered by Wolvardt and Lizelle Lee, who got off to a scintillating and match-winning start courtesy that 163-run stand at Eden Park Outer Oval makes the Proteas women vs White Ferns one heck of a contest.
Where the South Africans benefitted from two of their finest carvers of the white-ball in Lee and Wolvardt- scoring defiant fifties, it should’ve ideally been 2 centuries, as both batswomen registered vital 90s against the White Ferns.
While youngsters like Nondumiso Shangase, Nonkululeko Mlaba, and Nadine de Klerk also find their spot in this series, much of the middle-order will benefit from the proven excellence of Mignon du Preez.
Rewind the clocks back to October 11, 2016. Heading into the Second ODI of the 7-match series, it was all thanks to a gutsy 80 by Du Preez- the highest scorer for the Proteas women in both T20s and ODIs- that Proteas women were able to secure their first-ever win over the White Ferns in the format.
Importantly, until such time, before Du Preez’ match-winning 80 guided them to a rare win, the side had endured 7 losses against the strong White Ferns unit.
In the bowling department, the trio of Klass, Masabata, and Ismail will be expected to turn the contest early in the team’s favor thanks to the trio’s ability to bowl tight lines, hardly giving away much to the batters.
That they have an excellent support system in Kapp- 118 ODI wickets- should make the White Ferns work hard for every run.
The fact that Ismail and Kapp together constitute 253 international wickets in ODIs delivers a handy statement in itself for any opposition, let alone White Ferns.
But if there’s something the visitors would want to be watchful of then it’s this: the Proteas have a habit going either all guns blazing or surrendering after a good start due to callous batting. They have to follow a cautious approach against a team that is lead by the new captain, and someone who’s been in imperious touch where 2019 concerns: Sophie Devine.
As of the last year, Sophie Devine had a magnificent WBBL season, where she was adjudged the “Player of the Tournament” with 769 runs and 19-wickets speaking of her astute matchwinning qualities in both departments of the game.
The White Ferns would expect this to be a smooth transition for the in-form Devine-103 ODI games to her credit- who has the supporting cushion of sorts in the form of Bates, a star figure with an ODI experience of 122 ODIs.
Despite the absence of an ever-consistent opening batter in Amy Satterthwaite, the Kiwis do have a balanced squad.
Surely, the return of Huddleston, who proved to be a big thorn in the path of the struggling Proteas should boost the confidence of one of the most skilled sides in limited-overs cricket.
Moreover, the White Ferns possess some young-guns- such as Jess Kerr alongside her sister, “teen-sensation” Amelia Kerr, who will try to bring her A-game in the widely-followed series.
The White Ferns’ batting core will rest on the matchwinning abilities of stalwart Suzie Bates- 4445 ODI runs; the most in either team; alongside newly-made spirited leader Sophie Devine (2500 plus ODI runs) as the dangerous Bernadine Bezuidenhout (who formerly played for SA) along with a Priest and Katie Perkins will lend substance and experience in the middle order.
But make no mistake.
What makes the Proteas women vs White Ferns contest a red-hot series will be the abundance of bowling talent available to the hosts.
NZ are likely to feature Holly Huddleston, Hayley Jensen, Amelia Kerr, Rosemary Mair, and Anna Peterson to contribute to a unit that already has Bates and Devine as strong figureheads.
At the same time, another prospect that will make the Proteas women vs White Ferns contest a stern match between all-round skills would be how NZ’s bowling prowess would come to be tested by a Proteas unit that has proven stroke-makers in Lee, Wolvaardt, Tryon, Niekerk, and others.
Here’s what you ought to know.
New Zealand and South Africa face each after a gap of over two years. That’s a lot since there’s literally unending cricket happening round the clock on most parts of the continent.
While NZ will feel they are comfortably placed at the back of consistent ODI runs starting in the 2016 season, the Proteas, on the other hand, have their task cut out.
In order to qualify for the 2021 50-over world cup, SA will have to play to full might, something seen in the opening contest.
Yet, at the same time, they would be watchful of consistency, which has often hurt them in the batting department. It, then also is one of the key areas they’d look to master as only a few days remain before the much-anticipated 2020 Women’s World T20.