This be the year of the Proteas

Could this finally be the year for the Proteas Women? We’ve seen periods of progress and disappointment as they were ultimately shut down. It hasn’t been easy, but success in 2020 will make their journey worth it.

To that end, the next month —which culminates with the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup at the end of February — will be a massive event. South Africa were unable to get out of the group stage in 2018, a failure in keeping with their general performances at major international events. If there is a time to rewrite the narrative and prove that they can get it done when the lights shine brightest it will be now.

Before we get the answer to that question in the opener against England at the Waca in Australia, Hilton Moreeng’s side tackle New Zealand in a critical ODI and T20 tour. Beyond the obvious preparation factor, the first three-match series will count towards the Women’s Championship, meaning automatic qualification spots for the 2021 World Cup are on the line. A series win will almost secure one for the Proteas and give them some vital breathing room. Fail, however, and the herculean task of beating Australia in an ODI will have to be conquered if we’re to avoid a trip to Bangladesh for the qualifiers.

“It is definitely in the forefront of our minds,” opener Laura Wolvaardt said this week. “The White Ferns [New Zealand] are ranked higher than us, so if we beat this team here we will gain quite a few points and it is important to keep winning games and keep boosting our rankings.

“With the cut-off to reaching ICC tournaments, it is important to take each game seriously due to the points system and that will start with the ODI series here in Auckland.”

Coach Moreeng emphasised the importance of acclimatisation ahead of the first ODI on Saturday. Getting used to the conditions, he said, would be integral to any gameplan that would lead to a win over the first-class sides.

Thanks to the scheduling, the Kiwi games will flow conveniently into the World Cup, requiring only a hop across the ditch — to use the local lingo. It will probably be a gruelling month-and-a-bit away from home, but one that should leave the squad optimally prepared for the first ball in Perth.

“We did struggle a bit for the first few days, but the girls are getting used to the conditions and the time zones. Everything is going to plan,” wicket keeper Trisha Chetty said after the side’s first warm-up against the Saint Kentigern College boys’ side. “It’s very important to get as much time in the middle as possible because you have to get used to the wickets and conditions.”

The Proteas followed one convincing win with another after beating Auckland Hearts in a final warm-up on Tuesday.

In addition to the positive preparation, the team doctor has no injuries to report, so Moreeng, unusually, has an ideal roster to select from.

It also means there are no more excuses left to offer if the Proteas don’t do well in the World Cup.

For 20-year-old all-rounder Nadine de Klerk, there is little question that this is the best iteration of the side in years.

“Coming back obviously after being out for a year [to complete matric], this was my main goal and I’m super excited to be here and be with the girls,” she said. “Especially with the whole, fully fit strongest team we can be. So I think we’ve really got a chance going into the World Cup compared to the last one.”

The core of this team — players like Chetty, Dane van Niekerk, Shabnim Ismail and Marizanne Kapp — have been together in the national team since before the turn of the last decade. The hope is that the young blood they’ve picked up along the way, such as Wolvaardt and De Klerk, will be enough to prop the team up to that next ledge they keep missing. But should they fail once more, somebody somewhere is going to have to accept that some difficult decisions need to be made.

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Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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