In the mess that is South African cricket at the moment, there is at least one thing going right: the national women's team. In the absence of some of their most prominent mainstays, they wrapped up their tour of India with a 4-1 win in the ODI series and a 2-1 victory in the T20I leg.
The administration continues to lurch through crises that could see ministerial intervention in the near future, the domestic men's game is on the verge of a restructure that will cost 75 jobs, and the national men's team doesn't have a confirmed Test fixture in sight. Amid all this, the women have reached their highest ever ODI ranking - No. 2 - while also recording a first T20I series win over India, and have players climbing up the international charts. If you are wondering how that happened, coach Hilton Moreeng has an answer: "It's exceptional planning from players and management, controlling what we can and making sure we focus on what we can do."
That's only part of the story. The women's team has benefitted from consistency, in coaching, playing personnel and funding, which has allowed them to flourish while other parts of the game in the country flounder.
Moreeng, who took the team to the semi-finals of the 2017 ODI World Cup and the 2020 T20 World Cup, was reappointed on a three-year deal in July last year, extending a tenure that started in 2012. In this period, the team has gone from amateur to professional, thanks to a sponsorship from financial services company Momentum, which has been in place since 2013 and will last at least a decade.
Last September, when Momentum announced it would no longer sponsor men's ODIs, the domestic one-day cup, and age-group weeks because of its dissatisfaction with CSA's governance, it committed to backing the women's team until at least 2023, the year the country is due to host the rescheduled Women's T20 World Cup. In a media engagement on Wednesday morning, Carel Bosman, head of sponsorships and events at the organisation, indicated that that may continue beyond the present end date.
All that has meant that the South African women's team has a stable base from which to operate and the benefits of that are visible in their results. Despite a Covid-19-enforced layoff from March 2020 to January 2021, they adjusted to bubble life well and have won all four series - two in ODIs and as many in T20Is against Pakistan and India each - they have played since. Their aim of lifting the 2022 ODI World Cup trophy does not seem far-fetched, even though they will have to keep up the form they are in for another 12 months.
Here's a look at what they might want to keep doing right.
South African teams are not known for their ability to deal with pressure, but this team has shown that they can hold their nerve in crunch situations. They kept up with the DLS required run rate in the third ODI in India to claim victory, won both the fourth and fifth with less than two overs remaining, and took the second T20I on the final ball.
Both Moreeng and stand-in captain Suné Luus put that down to a change in mindset which came from beating New Zealand 3-0 away from home early last year. "Everything as far as a mental shift is concerned happened in New Zealand," Moreeng said. "We had to have hard chats with our batters and address the inconsistency that had been happening in the batting unit."
In New Zealand, South Africa chased successfully three times to automatically qualify for the 50-over World Cup and proved to themselves that they could beat top teams, away from home. Although they were out of action for a long stretch after that, the self-assurance didn't go away and was only enhanced when they beat Pakistan at home before traveling to India. "There was a silent confidence going around the camp," Luus said. "We hit the ground running in the Pakistan series. And here, nobody ever doubted that we wanted to win. There was never any fear of failure."
Lee's dominance and du Preez's return to form
South Africa's senior players embodied that bold attitude to set the tone for the India series. Lizelle Lee was the top-scorer in the ODIs with 288 runs including one hundred (a career-best 132*) and two fifties at an average of 144, and the third-highest run-scorer in the T20Is, where she scored one fifty. She rose to the top of the ODI rankings before being overtaken by Tammy Beaumont and her opening partnership with Laura Wolvaardt is among the most formidable in world cricket, so much so that South Africa were thought to be over-reliant on the pair.
Enter Mignon du Preez. Before this tour, du Preez had not scored a half-century since February 2019. But making the most of her renewed approach to batting, thanks in no small part to the 2020-21 WBBL, she reeled off two in a row to secure the ODI series and showed the value of her experience in the middle order, particularly in ushering younger players through tricky periods. Having her firing for the next 12 months and at the World Cup is crucial to South Africa's chances.
Approach against spin
After being bamboozled by the turning ball on their last tour to India, in 2019, South Africa embarked on an intense programme to get better at it. And it has worked. They subjected India's spinners to their worst home ODI series where they have bowled at least 100 overs, and used the sweep and reverse sweep to good, and occasionally daring, effect.
"After the tour we had here the last time, we had to sit down and look at how we could improve because a lot of teams were throwing spin at us," Moreeng said. "Other teams saw our batting against spin as a weakness. So, in almost every batting camp that we had, we brought in consultants that could help, and every day the players, even the bowlers, had to learn to play against spinners and how to get off strike. The biggest thing for us was that we got bogged down and it was becoming difficult to score. It became a norm for us that even when players go home from camps, playing spin was something they had to keep doing. All the hard work they have put in over the last two years - we are starting to see the results."
South Africa have played this year without their regular captain Dané van Niekerk and senior allrounder Chloe Tryon, who are both recovering from lower-back injuries. That gave Luus the opportunity to step in as leader, though she also missed some matches because of illness, which allowed Wolvaardt to step in. And, just like that, South Africa may have created a succession plan.
"The more leaders we have in the team, the stronger the team will be because there's enough ideas and maturity," Moreeng said. "In terms of how we think and plan, most of them will understand what needs to happen."
That's exactly how Luus experienced the role. "The team makes it easy. They know what they want to do. I think I'm just there to say who bowls when."
Evergreen Ismail leads the attack With the batting in the spotlight, South Africa's attack has flown under the radar but can't go without mention. Shabnim Ismail was their leading wicket-taker in both formats on the India tour and once again impressed with her aggression and accuracy, and also in the mentoring role she appeared to play on-field, especially in the absence of Marizanne Kapp in the T20Is.
South Africa will also be pleased with the efforts of quick bowler Ayabonga Khaka, who was their most economical bowler on the tour and helped keep a star-studded Indian line-up in control. Khaka conceded 3.44 runs an over in the ODIs, the lowest in the series, and 5.62 in the T20Is, where only Rajeshwari Gayakwad, the India left-arm spinner, was more miserly than her. Tumi Sekhukhune provided good support in the ODIs with five wickets at 28.40 and an economy rate of 5.35.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent