JOHANNESBURG – With the World Cup on the horizon, Proteas captain, Dane van Niekerk says there is a great focus on the five match One-Day series against the West Indies, but that the preceding T20 series can give her side some much needed early momentum.
The South African women's team had its first practice session in Antigua on Friday to kick off a tour that includes three T20 Internationals and then five ODIs. It is the latter which the South Africans will be particularly focused on as they begin the build up to the World Cup that will be played in New Zealand in March next year.
It’s been a while too since South Africa last played an ODI, in March in India and even longer since Van Niekerk played in one - that was in New Zealand last year. A lot has happened since.
Van Niekerk is just glad to be back with the team after that lengthy period in which she was sidelined by various injuries.
“I went through an extensive programme not just physically but mentally as well,” she said on Friday. “I had a lot of time to think about where I want to go and what I want to achieve as a leader - and obviously, that is winning a World Cup.”
Van Niekerk is fresh off a stellar performance in the inaugural ‘Hundred’ competition in England, where she was named player of the tournament after leading her side, The Oval Invincibles to the title at Lord’s last week. It was a competition that Van Niekerk explained she needed.
“The Hundred was the first time in a very long time that I competed competitively at a certain level. I took a lot of confidence out of it,” she said.
Along with Van Niekerk, Marizanne Kapp and Shabnim Ismael were also part of the victorious Invincibles, while Chloe Tryon, Mignon du Preez, Lizelle Lee and Laura Wolvaardt featured prominently for different franchises in that tournament.
“I’d prefer to leave (The Hundred behind). Personally I’d like to take some momentum and confidence out of it, but I definitely don’t want the (South African) team to feel like they need to take something out of it. Hopefully, just on a personal level, they can see I can still compete and showcase my skill. For me it was a massive confidence booster to show myself that I can still compete at a certain level and I want to bring that confidence into the set up and contribute to a successful tour.”
In her absence, the team was successful, winning home series’s against Pakistan in Durban at the start of the year and then beating India in India, under the leadership of Sune Luus. Watching from afar, Van Niekerk was aware that she may need to evolve her leadership, to fit in with the style that had been developed under Luus.
“I need to find my feet. I don’t want to come back in and bash everyone with what I believe or what I think. They’ve created a very good atmosphere and environment and I want to join in, because it’s been a very successful one.”
Being away from home, gives the team some wiggle room to build again, after the lengthy period apart, but given the results when they’ve played together in the last couple of years, Van Niekerk understands that there’ll be more hype around the side now.
“When you win a massive series like beating India in India, the expectation grows massively,” she said. “It’s important not to think about that. It does feel like a lifetime ago. You want to build momentum during a season. A layoff like that breaks the momentum.”
Getting that momentum back quickly starts with the first T20 match next Tuesday.
“The main focus is the ODIs. We need to start really well and grab the momentum in the T20s and hopefully that flows over into the ODIs,” said van Nierkerk.
Dane Van Niekerk (capt); Sune Luus; Ayabonga Khaka; Shabnim Ismail; Laura Wolvaardt; Trisha Chetty; Sinalo Jafta; Tasmin Britz; Marizanne Kapp; Nondu Shangase; Lizelle Lee; Nonkululeko Mlaba; Mignon du Preez; Chloe Tryon; Nadine de Klerk; Lara Goodall; Tumi Sekhukhune; Masabata Klaas
1st T20 - Aug 31
2nd T20 - Sept 2
3rd T20 - Sept 4
1st ODI - Sept 7
2nd ODI - Sept 10
3rd ODI - Sept 13
4th ODI - Sept 16
5th ODI - Sept 19