Full strength South Africa start ODI series as firm favourites

Anisa Mohammed (L) and Dane van Niekerk (R). © Cricket West Indies

West Indies were without Stafanie Taylor. South Africa were at full strength. It should have been a no contest. The hosts should have had no chance. However, after a washout in the first game and a drubbing in the second, Anisa Mohammed’s West Indies side came back to record a convincing series-levelling five-wicket win over South Africa in the third and final T20I at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua.

With their backs against the walls, it was the bowling group that put the hosts in the driver’s seat in the final game, running through South Africa’s strong batting line up like a knife through butter. Without the senior pair of Shamilia Connell and Shakera Selman, the opening duo of Aaliyah Alleyne (2-16) and Chinelle Henry (1-13) reduced the visitors to 9 for 3 before the spinners tightened the noose. The fielders too stepped up their game with both Hayley Matthews and Britney Cooper pulling off stunning catches in the final match.

Qiana Joseph, the left-arm spinner, was West Indies’ standout performer through the series. Although she picked up only one wicket across three matches, the 20-year-old showed the ability to dry up the runs in the middle overs, going at under five runs an over. She was often thrown the ball when South Africa were on the charge, and always found a way to arrest their momentum.

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Her form aside, the trio of off-spinners – Matthews, Mohammed and Karishma Ramharack – also proved to be very useful in conditions that suited the slower bowlers. The group finished with a combined analysis of 11-0-32-5 in the third T20I.

With the bat West Indies are still searching for some consistency. With 54 runs in three innings, Deandra Dottin was their highest run-getter in the T20Is – her 21-ball 31 proving to be a match-winning performance on Saturday (September 4). None of the other batters found any momentum in the shortest format.

West Indies will be hoping to carry the confidence of the final T20I into the ODI series, while also banking on the senior batters to rise to the occasion. South Africa have been relentless with the ball on the tour so far, and if the hosts are to challenge them in the longer format, the likes of Matthews, Cooper and the Knights (Kyshona and Kycia) will need to up their game in the continued absence of Taylor.

However, the hosts will be up against an ODI team at the top of their game. In 2021, South Africa have only lost one of their eight ODIs – whitewashing Pakistan at home before walloping India in their backyard. They are the most successful ODI unit this year. Back at full strength, on paper, it seems they will be hard to challenge.

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ODI opener Laura Wolvaardt has shown tremendous form with the bat so far, blasting 71 runs at a strike rate of close to 230. Alongside Lizelle Lee – the only batter to score over 100 runs in the T20I series – she will prove to be hard to dislodge in her favoured format. Beyond them are a few more accomplished batters in Dane van Niekerk, Mignon du Preez, Marizanne Kapp, Sune Luus, Chloe Tryon and Trisha Chetty.

South Africa’s bowling attack, too, is well rounded. They’ve got the firepower of Kapp and Shabnim Ismail – who did not take part in the T20I series – backed well by the accuracy of Ayabonga Khaka and the heart of Masabata Klaas and Tumi Sekhukhune. Nonkululeko Mlaba, the left-arm spinner, has made a good account of herself through her short career, and gives van Niekerk another spin option if necessary.

Despite their apparent strength, over two tours to the Caribbean, South Africa have managed only three wins in eight ODIs – a fact not lost on head coach Hilton Moreeng.

“I won’t say we’re favourites, we are playing against a team that’s playing in their own conditions,” Moreeng said ahead of the ODI series opener. “But this is a format that we want to keep on improving in. It is one of our stronger formats. We have a settled squad. The players all know what they need to do to get on the right side of the result. Everything is moving in the right direction. We should be highly competitive.”

Looking ahead to the World Cup next year, the five ODIs will serve as great preparation for both sides. For South Africa, it’s a chance to enhance their reputation as a team that can win in all conditions. And for the hosts, there lies an opportunity to put the pieces of the puzzle together ahead of the global qualifiers in November.

But whether Moreeng wants to admit it or not, South Africa go into the series as runaway favourites. While West Indies may have a sniff, with the women in maroon, the question always is – which West Indies will turn up?

Squads

West Indies: Anisa Mohammed (c), Deandra Dottin (vc), Aaliyah Alleyne, Britney Cooper, Shamilia Connell, Shabika Gajnabi, Chinelle Henry, Qiana Joseph, Kycia Knight, Kyshona Knight, Hayley Matthews, Chedean Nation, Karishma Ramharack

South Africa: Dane van Niekerk (c), Sune Luus, Ayabonga Khaka, Shabnim Ismail, Laura Wolvaardt, Trisha Chetty, Sinalo Jafta,Tasmin Britz, Marizanne Kapp, Nondumiso Shangase, Lizelle Lee, Nonkululeko Mlaba, Mignon du Preez, Chloe Tryon, Nadine de Klerk, Lara Goodall, Tumi Sekhukhune, Masabata Klaas