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Womens World T20

‘Sorry, South Africa’ – team apologetic after batting letdown

Eng v SA, WT20 Match 15, reaction

The captain was apologetic, the coach described their performance as unacceptable. As South Africa’s journey in the ICC Women’s World T20 2018 came to a premature end, it left serious questions about the batting, writes Karunya Keshav.

Before the Group A matches in St Lucia, the previous time Marizanne Kapp was on the island, she had figures of 3/3.

“Hopefully that’s my ground,” she had said before South Africa kicked off their World T20 campaign at the Daren Sammy National Cricket Stadium. Not just with the ball, the fiery pace bowler who tops economy charts at most T20 leagues around the world, had expected to rediscover her batting in the West Indies as well. 

Kapp is ranked No.14 on the MRF Tyres ICC Women’s T20I Rankings for All-rounders, but, by her own admission, her batting took a backseat in recent times. “My batting took a knock because I sort of set it aside,” she told the ICC. “The workload got just too much. In the past you could get away with it, but nowadays the amount of cricket you play, mentally more than physically it’s really tough on the body.

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“But I know in T20 cricket I’ll get more opportunities. I actually really enjoy batting in T20s.” 

And she did get more opportunities. In South Africa’s three matches so far, she played at No.3 for the first time in her T20I career, and top scored in two games.

It was a step forward for Kapp, the all-rounder. But for the team, it should have rung alarm bells – that it was Kapp and not their frontline batters primarily among the runs. One their many experiments forced by a shaky batting line-up, it was not enough to keep them alive in the competition.    

It has been a disappointing fall for a side that played with such spirit in the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 to make it to the semi-final there, falling just short against England. On Friday, 16 November, for the second time in as many games, South Africa’s batting crumbled to a total less than 100. They had failed to chase 107 against the Windies, and posted just 85 against England. It meant that on their tour of the Caribbean for the World T20, including in four official and unofficial matches, they had won just one game.

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“We owe an apology to our whole country,” Dane van Niekerk, the captain, said after the match. “That’s not our character to roll over like that."

“Once again, very frustrating with our batting,” added Hilton Moreeng, the coach. “It just didn't fire as far as the World Cup is concerned.” 

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“We know the quality we have,” he said. “If you look at our overall game, bowlers have bowled well and [been] backed up by good fielding. It's just that on the day, when you look at the game against West Indies, it's a game we felt, with the quality we had, it's a score we should be able to chase down. [But] it just didn't happen.”

It’s almost as if losing is becoming a habit and that we have to change

Just what has gone wrong with the batting? It’s certainly not a problem of skill. In Lizelle Lee, they have one of the most powerful strikers of the ball, and Chloe Tryon has an enviable strike rate and six-hitting habit. The likes of van Niekerk, Kapp, Mignon du Preez and Laura Wolvaardt all have the experience of playing in leagues abroad. 

Besides, they were one of the teams who had experience of West Indian conditions as well, having just completed a tour of the region. The surfaces here, which have something for bowlers as well as batters, gave them a better chance than flat tracks that encourage a more one-dimensional approach to batting.

Yet, Lee struggled; cramped for room and faced with too many dot balls, she often lost her shape or ended up top-edging wildly. Even ridding herself off the wicket-keeping gloves didn’t help. The opening pair of Lee and Wolvaardt, so effective in ODIs, ate up too many deliveries. 

The middle order had their share of bad luck and their good shots sometimes found fielders, but with pressure trickling down from the top, the long tail was quickly exposed.

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“I don’t have answers at the moment,” van Niekerk admitted. “We have the firepower, we’ve got the talent, but at the end of the day you have to perform at the World Cup and against quality teams like England … It’s almost as if losing is becoming a habit and that we have to change.” 

Moreeng suggested going “back to the drawing board”. “Even the basics we're not applying well. Even simple things like strike rotation is something that's not happened like it's supposed to. We need to go back to the drawing board because it's been a really disappointing World Cup for all of us … it's unacceptable.” 

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The team has often suggested their problems are psychological. Going back home, their challenge will be to ensure the young generation of players aren’t scarred by defeats such as this. Moreeng, for one, encouraged them to quickly put the World T20 behind them. 

“Where the team is going and where the buildup towards 2020 now is, it is for us now to sit down and look at what we can work, what we can improve after this [World T20]. I think it's one of those that you want to quickly put behind you as a team and focus on the future.”