Moreeng believes van Niekerk 'will be ready' for T20 World Cup
Having recovered from a long-term ankle injury, she has met all of CSA's fitness requirements except the 2km time trial
Dane van Niekerk remains in contention for South Africa's T20 World Cup squad and will undergo a final fitness test on January 27 in a bid to prove her eligibility for selection.
Since recovering from the broken ankle she sustained last January, which kept her out of the 50-over World Cup and the Commonwealth Games, van Niekerk has played at the Hundred and the WBBL, but has not played international cricket as she works to meet the fitness standard set by Cricket South Africa (CSA). She has been left out of the squad for the tri-series against India and West Indies, which starts on Thursday, but coach Hilton Moreeng is optimistic she will lead the team at the World Cup next month.
"We believe she'll be ready," Moreeng said. "That's why she has been given all the opportunity to make sure she is ready, so she can get through the fitness test and make sure she is part of the group. She was part of the camp and she trained with us. She is working hard to make sure she is in that squad."
ESPNcricinfo understands that van Niekerk's fitness has improved drastically from where it was even before the injury, with one insider saying she is "the fittest she has been in five years." She has lost 10kg since last year's Hundred and has met all her markers except the 2km time trial. Female cricketers in South Africa are required to complete the run in 9 minutes and 30 seconds, while male cricketers must complete the distance in 8 minutes and 30 seconds. All players who hope to play for the national side must now meet this criteria, as well as pass a body composition test, although this is a rule that was only implemented in the last few years as CSA sought to be stricter on fitness.
Last year, van Niekerk's team-mate Lizelle Lee was dropped from the national team for failing her body composition test after her weight was deemed over the standard set for her. Lee retired in the aftermath and explained how she felt victimised and body-shamed at the time, as well as questioned why the standard was not more individualised.
Sisanda Magala, the men's white-ball bowler, asked the same question when he was left out of the national squad for failing to make his running times. He told The Cricket Monthly that he hoped his performances, as the leading bowler in the domestic one-day competition made up for the 12 seconds he fell short by on the running trial, but they did not. He has since passed the test and was, on Tuesday, named in South Africa's ODI squad to play England later this month.
Considering Lee and Magala's cases, Moreeng was asked if the rigid application of the standards was fair, and said he believed their uniformity made them so. "We believe they are fair. Every member of the squad knows what is required, even at the domestic level. It's where we are as a team and as a country, it's the direction we are moving to. It's to make sure each and every player, as far as the minimum standards are concerned, meets them," he said. "It's criteria that have been designed and given to players all around the country. It's one of those that tests your strength and aerobic side of things to make sure players will be able to deal with whatever demands the game gives them on a daily basis. It's all to make sure the player has the best possible time to perform."
But Moreeng conceded that even without passing the running test, van Niekerk remained crucial to South Africa's chances of success. "She is a quality cricketer," he said. "Any environment will be blessed to have her."
And those close to van Niekerk say she is fully committed to doing everything she can to ensure she passes the test and is in South Africa's squad and sees playing at this World Cup as the fulfillment of a dream.
South Africa have set themselves a goal of qualifying for the final of their home World Cup, after reaching the semi-finals in 2014 and 2020.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent