SA women begin new era in India with focus on ODI World Cup qualification

As one World Cup – the men’s T20 tournament – enters its next phase, preparation for another – the women’s ODI event next year – is taking shape as South Africa look to secure automatic qualification and gain experience by playing the hosts, India.

It’s an all-format tour that kicks off with three ODIs in Bengaluru, before a one-off Test in Chennai, and a T20I series in preparation for another World Cup: the women’s T20 tournament this October. Provided the weather holds – there’s plenty to look forward to.

ODI World Cup qualification: India and top five teams in women’s championship

As hosts, India automatically qualify for the World Cup (that is probably the reason they have played just nine matches in this championship cycle) so there’s no concern for them there, but their ODI form could be. After sweeping both Sri Lanka and England 3-0 in 2022, they tied a series in Bangladesh – actually tied, because with the teams locked 1-1, scores were level in the decided and there was not enough time for a Super Over – and then lost 3-0 to Australia at home. There’s more than a year to go before the ODI World Cup though, and plenty of time to get themselves into a consistent flow.
The bigger spotlight will be on South Africa, who are currently third in the championship table, a point behind England and five adrift of Australia. All three of those teams have six matches remaining, including a series between South Africa and England this summer. An early analysis suggests that if South Africa win four of their remaining six matches, they will be out of reach of New Zealand and Sri Lanka (who also have six matches left) and can be certain of automatic qualification. If they win fewer games, they could still qualify but will have to rely on some other results and will want to avoid that.

South Africa begin life after Moreeng

South Africa are also embarking on this journey to the World Cup without their most familiar face: former coach Hilton Moreeng.
“Hilton (Moreeng) was on every single tour for the past 11 years. So to not have him here is a bit weird,” captain Laura Wolvaardt said at South Africa’s arrival press conference.

She did not go on to say it is what several senior members of the squad wanted because they felt the need for new ideas in the set up.

Last year, ESPNcricnfo revealed a group of players had written to Cricket South Africa expressing their desire for a change in management after the home T20 World Cup. CSA did not plan on giving them that until 2025, and hoped Moreeng would continue until the ODI World Cup. It took a change of heart from Moreeng himself to end his tenure in May.
The timing meant the only replacement option was assistant coach Dillon du Preez, who offers consistency from the Moreeng era and may see this as an opportunity to audition for the job full-time. So far, he has the buy-in from the dressing room despite their earlier assertion of wanting something new.

“Dillon was in the set-up and the environment for about four or five years. So nothing has really changed too much from sort of an operational point of view,” Wolvaardt said. “I think we still try to keep things as much as the same as before, just so that it’s not completely new and completely fresh. But then at the same time, I think the new additions that we have in the group have brought a lot of outside energy and some outside knowledge as well. So it’s been good. I’ve really enjoyed the new, fresh people.”

The other additions to the coaching staff are batting coach Baakier Abrahams, who was the assistant coach of the Warriors’ men’s provincial team, and Bongani Ndaba, the new fielding coach from the Lions.

South Africa’s squad is filled with regulars, and there is much anticipation for the return of Tazmin Brits, who has recovered from a knee-ligament tear in time of the tour. Brits will partner Wolvaardt, the leading run-scorer in ODIs this year, at the top of the order and also provides much-needed experience in the absence of the injured vice-captain Chloe Tryon.
Jemimah Rodrigues’ availability was the big talking point of the build-up after she missed the Bangladesh series with a back niggle but she was named in the squad and captained the Board President’s XI against South Africa A in the warm-ups. The news on Pooja Vastrakar is less clear-cut. There has been no information on her injury but she was included in the squad subject to fitness. However, she was not part of the practice match and if she doesn’t make the team, Arundhati Reddy – who got her call-up after impressive performances in WPL – might be the second seamer in support of Renuka Singh.

Perhaps more important was what actually happened in the warm-up game: only 14 overs were possible before it was washed out. Rain could end up impacting the series as well: there have been showers every evening over the past week and more are forecast for Sunday’s opener and next week as well.

Should play be severely interrupted, it would be a disappointment for the Bengaluru crowd, who showed their support for the women’s game during the WPL and last saw the national women’s team play at their stadium nine years ago. Then, India beat New Zealand 3-2 in 2015 with a squad that included an 18-year old Smriti Mandhana and only one other player who is still part of the current squad: Harmanpreet Kaur. There will be a lot of focus on both of them in this series after disappointing showings against Australia. Mandhana made scores of 34 and 29 but Harmanpreet was dismissed in single figures in all three matches.
While India will want to see more from their experienced players, they will also put some attention on the youngsters. Shafali Verma was dropped after the first ODI against Australia after failing to get into double figures in five successive innings and will have to demonstrate an ability to translate her T20 hitting to the 50-over format. And Richa Ghosh has been moved from the finishing role to No.3, where coach Amol Muzumdar feels she is best suited. Her 96 in the second ODI against Australia makes a good case and she will want to build on that.