Lara Goodall has dedicated her career-best 59* against India Women to national coach Hilton Moreeng, who she credited with believing in her even when she was not performing. The innings, Goodall's second fifty in 25 ODIs, helped secure the series for South Africa Women, with a game to play.
"It was nice to get the team over the line. The personal milestone was good but to be there at the end after grafting so hard in the middle and to win the game was special," she said. "To coach Hilton, for all his faith in me. I know I haven't always backed him up but he has always backed me as a player, so this one was for him."
Goodall was recalled by Moreeng and the selection panel for January's home series against Pakistan after spending 15 months out of the international game. She was dropped after South Africa's last tour of India, in 2019, where she played in two of the three ODIs and returned scores of 38 and 6. At that point, her ODI average was 15.14 - quite substandard for a middle-order batter.
"I took that quite hard," Goodall admitted, while conceding that she had clear weaknesses. "I wasn't sure of my game and how to play spin and what my scoring options were. I didn't really back myself so I was making half-hearted approaches."
She called what happened between training session and match day back then a "disconnect"; she was unable to translate her talent into runs for the runs national team, and she was forced to go back to the domestic set-up and refine her skills. "I looked at myself and saw that I needed to improve a lot to become a mainstay in this line-up. There was a slot in that middle-order, which I wanted to make mine."
"We have a world-class opening partnership in Lizelle [Lee] and Laura [Wolvaardt] and we haven't always backed them up in the past. We owed it to Lizelle and Laura. Today was for them."Lara Goodall pays tribute to her team-mates
In the 2019-20 summer, Goodall finished outside the top 10 in the CSA women's provincial league and probably still wasn't doing enough to be recalled. But then lockdown happened and, for her, it couldn't have come at a more opportune time. "I trained very hard during the lockdown and just came back with a different approach. It was more of a mental shift, because I felt that I always had the shots and the ability to bat."
One of the shots is the reverse-sweep, which she cheekily pulled out twice in the 48th over to put South Africa in touching distance of victory in Lucknow. "It's a shot I've always backed myself to play. I've played it back home all the time. Once they took the slip out, that was always going to be my option. My conventional sweep wasn't working so I had to go to that option and it came off. I was calm and I was set, which helped to execute such shots. And now that I am back I don't ever want to go back to provincial structures for the whole season. I want to be playing for the Proteas with a view to the World Cup next year."
South Africa have identified the postponed tournament as theirs to challenge for. They automatically qualified for the event by beating New Zealand in New Zealand and Goodall believes their victory in India is an illustration of how seriously they should be taken, especially if they increase the margin of their series triumph in Wednesday's final match. "The last time we came to India we got clobbered, so we came here with a point to prove. We are a lot more sure in our games. We back ourselves a lot more than we did a few years ago. We knew it wasn't going to be easy with conditions. It was nice to come and make a statement and nice to show we have that belief," she said. "And 4-1 is a lot better than 3-1, so if we win 4-1 in India it is a statement to the rest of the world that we are gunning for that World Cup."
There's still a year to go and much more cricket to be played before that and South Africa may use the time to tinker with their combinations. The middle-order was a concern before this serious, and criticised for relying too heavily on the opening pair, which Goodall recognised. "We have a world-class opening partnership in Lizelle [Lee] and Laura [Wolvaardt] and we haven't always backed them up in the past. We could always rely on our opening partnership but as a middle order, we had to look at ourselves," she said. "We owed it to Lizelle and Laura. Today was for them. They've always given us the best starts."
Although Lee and Wolvaardt were responsible for setting up South Africa's chase in this match, neither of them was there at the end. Instead, it was Mignon du Preez, who hadn't scored a half-century in more than two years before today, Marizanne Kapp and Goodall who finished the chase, proving that there are others who can handle responsibility in the South African line-up. "We didn't lose wickets in clusters, which has been our problem in the past," Goodall said. "And to come here and win without Dane [van Niekerk] and Chloe [Tryon], who are big players for us, shows the immense depth and talent we have."
van Niekerk and Tryon are not on the tour as they both recover form lower-back injuries, but South Africa also won the last two matches without stand-in captain Sune Luus, who is ill, and regular wicketkeeper Trisha Chetty, who is carrying a niggle.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent