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Feature

South Africa women overcome national nemesis to beat India

Touring South African teams don't generally fare well against spin, but not this one

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
17-Mar-2021
Laura Wolvaardt and Lizelle Lee walk out to bat  •  BCCI/UPCA

Laura Wolvaardt and Lizelle Lee walk out to bat  •  BCCI/UPCA

It's rare that a South African team can walk away from a series in India and claim superiority. The men's side have won one out eight Test rubbers, one out of five bilateral ODI series and one of out of two T20s match-ups. Before Sunday, the women's team had won one out of two ODI series in India. Now, not only have they successfully secured a second trophy, by the biggest margin a South African team has earned in India (4-1), but they did it by overcoming a national nemesis: spin.
In losing 13 wickets to India's spinners across the five matches at an average of 53.15 and a strike rate of 70.7 (one wicket to every 11.5 overs of spin) South Africa subjected the home tweakers to their worst result in a series where they have bowled at least 100 overs and significantly worse than the last time they played South Africa. Then, in a three-match series in 2019, India's spinners took 18 wickets at 19.05, struck every 5.2 overs and squeezed South Africa at only 3.53 runs an over.
"Two years back when we toured here India demolished us with their spin," stand-in captain Sune Luus said. "But we had a Pakistan series before this and we played in Durban which is kind of subcontinental in its conditions. India bowled a lot of spin to us but we found ways to attack. We knew they were just going to throw a lot of overs of spin at us and we were mentally ready for that."
In January, South Africa hosted Pakistan for three ODIs and three T20s, all at Kingsmead. Against the likes of Nida Dar and Nashra Sandhu, they won the ODIs 3-0 and the T20s 2-1 and performed well against the spinners. In the ODIs,11 out of 26 South African dismissals in the series came against spin and they scored at 4.01 runs to the over. In the T20s, they lost six out of 11 wickets to spin and scored at 6.01.
That preparation has proved invaluable and it also gave South Africa much-needed match-practice and the opportunity to develop the habit of winning.
South Africa won the first two ODIs against Pakistan against by slender margins (three runs and 13 runs), both times defending totals. In this series, after two one-sided matches, the results got closer to each other. South Africa had to beat both India and the weather in the third match, recorded their highest successful chase in the fourth and snuck home in a low-scoring thriller in the finale.
After developing a reputation for falling at the final hurdle in heartbreaking performances like the semi-final of the last fifty-over World Cup in Bristol or the semi-final of the T20 World Cup last March in Sydney, it seems as though South Africa have found ways to hold their nerve in tense situations. "The more games you play, the more you get yourself into pressure situations which you need to get through, We've been in enough pressure situations to identify where we are struggling and where we can get better," Luus said. "If you look at teams like Australia and England, they've played a lot of games and been in a lot of semi-finals and finals and they can handle pressure. We need to keep on getting into semi-finals and work through that to get to finals. We are a world class team that have been working hard for a lot of years and we really want to be on top of the world and to compete with Australia and England and I think we are there. The more games you play, especially against teams like India, Australia, England, the more you can learn how to deal with pressure."
All that would be ideal if the women's World Cup was being played as originally planned, now. Instead, it has been pushed back to March 2022 and South Africa will want to maintain this form for another 12 months. Luus believes they can do that by continuing to find similarities between the matches they play now and big-tournament situations. "If we are looking towards the World Cup next year in New Zealand, they have high scoring grounds and so that's (like the fourth match) type of totals we are going to be chasing or setting. It was a good experience now to get the feel for it and see how you manage a chase, when you start going, when you hold back and when you just rotate strike," Luus said. "All five games were different scenarios and that's the experience we are going to need for the World Cup."
South Africa's victory in India puts them second on the ODI rankings, their highest to date, with Lizelle Lee on top of the batting charts, Shabnim Ismail and Marizanne Kapp at No.3 and 4 on the bowling list and Kapp the third-highest allrounder, their stocks are rising. This series also showed off several lower-profile players - Lara Goodall, Anneke Bosch and Tumi Sekhukhune - which suggests there's depth in the talent pool and plenty for South Africa to work with.
"We are so excited to win the series in India. It's a very special achievement for our team. It's never easy to play here and take the series away from the Indian team like we did." Luus said. "We can go into the T20 series smiling because our fifty-over game is coming together very nicely."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent