South Africa firm favourites as Pakistan look to solve their top-order woes

South Africa players celebrate their victory over Pakistan © ICC

Post the Women’s World Cup in 2017, there has been a lot of focus on T20I cricket as the teams were planning for the T20 World Cups that happened in 2018 and 2020. T20Is went through a sea of changes as the teams looked at finding ways to evolve their game.

When the 2020 T20 World Cup started, it looked like both Pakistan and South Africa have turned a corner in T20Is as they notched up impressive wins in their respective opening matches. But by the time tournament ended, their fortunes were at polar opposites as Pakistan were left searching for answers after a first-round exit, while South Africa ran the eventual champions close in a rain-reduced semi-final encounter.

Both these sides last met in T20Is at the same T20 World Cup where South Africa got the better of Pakistan by 17 runs. It will be interesting to where they stand as they return to the format after a gap of more than ten months when they take on each other in the first T20I at Kingsmead, Durban on Friday (January 29). South Africa will be on a high from the 3-0 whitewash they inflicted on the visitors, as Pakistan were left smarting from the two close defeats they had in the first two matches.

South Africa will continue to miss their two key players in Dane van Niekerk and Chloe Tryon, but still, they have eight players who featured in Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) and Women’s T20 Challenge in their squad. They also featured in the Women’s Super League T20 series at home. Pakistan, on the other hand, had their players take part in the National T20 Triangular Championship November-December 2020.

Skipper Sune Luus is wary of a comeback from Pakistan and wants her side to improve their fielding going into the T20 leg of the series.

“Pakistan is going to come hard, and we are going to need to take the opportunities that come our way. We definitely need to do better on our fielding,” Luus said in the pre-series conference on Thursday (January 28).

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The allrounder, who became the tenth player to do the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in ODIs, added that she will be looking to use her leg-spin as an attacking option in the series.

“Leg-spin has a big role to play in T20 cricket. I am a very attacking bowler; I want to strike, and that’s going to be key to this T20 series.”

One of the biggest issues with the Pakistan side during the ODIs was the fact that they kept losing wickets at the top and in all three matches, half of the batters were back to the pavilion by the time the scores reached the 70s. Openers Nahida Khan and Muneeba Ali, in particular, had a harrowing time and Ali was dropped in the final match with skipper Javeria Khan coming up to open the innings.

Javeria Khan believes the younger players in the squad should be given more time to find their feet in international cricket and she backed them to come good during the T20I leg of the tour.

“If you judge such youngsters only after a handful of games, the pressure on them increases. If you want to create a good player, you need to give them time,” Javeria said at the pre-series conference.

“This is not a flop team. Every player tries her best, and we come good even if 5-6 players play well. Muneeba Ali is a youngster, and she’s just 22 years old and has just started playing international cricket. Sometimes you need to give time to good potential, and they learn as they go along.”

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But fast-paced nature of the T20 game might not allow the younger players to take their time and Pakistan will have to find immediate answers for their batting woes if they were to challenge the Proteas side in the series. If they want inspiration, they can look at how Laura Wolvaardt, a traditional batter, has adjusted and evolved her game to the demands of the format while batting at five in the T20 World Cup. Wolvaardt had unbeaten scores of 53 off 36 balls against Pakistan and 41 off 27 balls against Australia in the tournament.

Luus refused to divulge who will open the batting for the hosts in the first match in the place of van Niekerk, who opened during the T20 World Cup. South Africa will be hoping that the form of Wolvaardt and Marizanne Kapp, along with Mignon du Preez, who had a good WBBL season, will cover up for Tryon’s absence. Whereas Pakistan’s lack of big hitters other than Aliya Riaz might see them wanting to be more aggressive at the top and they will be looking for more runs from the young Omaima Sohail.

The tourists went down 2-3, after being 2-1, when they visited the Rainbow Nation the last time in 2019. They will be hoping to put up the same kind of fight of this time, but it won’t be easy against South Africa’s pace battery consisting of Kapp and Shabnim Ismail.

Squads

South Africa:  Sune Luus (c), Laura Wolvaardt, Trisha Chetty (wk), Mignon du Preez, Shabnim Ismail, Lizelle Lee, Ayabonga Khaka, Masabata Klaas, Nadine de Klerk, Tumi Sekhukhune, Sinalo Jafta, Marizanne Kapp, Lara Goodall, Nondumiso Shangase, Nonkululeko Mlaba, Faye Tunnicliffe, Anneke Bosch, Tazmin Brits.

Pakistan: Javeria Khan (c), Aimen Anwar, Aliya Riaz, Anam Amin, Ayesha Naseem, Ayesha Zafar, Diana Baig, Fatima Sana, Kainat Imtiaz, Muneeba Ali, Nahida Khan, Nashra Sandhu, Nida Dar, Omaima Sohail, Sadia Iqbal, Sidra Nawaz (wk) and Syeda Aroob Shah.

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