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Feature

What South Africa and West Indies need to do to secure ODI World Cup spots

Both teams showed glimpses of how good they can be in a recently concluded three-match series, but there is still work to do

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
22-Mar-2023
South Africa will need to find consistency in selection ahead of the ODI World Cup  •  AFP/Getty Images

South Africa will need to find consistency in selection ahead of the ODI World Cup  •  AFP/Getty Images

In a fifty-over World Cup year, it may sound strange to hear players talk about a series having "no point," but there were literally no points on offer as South Africa took on West Indies over the last week. Their three ODIs - one of them was washed out - were an opportunity to experiment with both teams still some way away from reaching the 2023 World Cup. And so they did. The 1-1 result showed some glimpses of what the two of them can do and highlighted several areas they need to work on as they attempt to secure spots in India later this year.

South Africa need to:

Beat Netherlands 2-0 on March 31 and April 2. They have held their best players from going to the IPL for three days in order to achieve that. The results will only see South Africa through to the World Cup if Sri Lanka lose at least two of their three games to New Zealand in a series that starts at the weekend and Ireland lose at least one against Bangladesh in a three-match series in May. Crucially, after missing several players through illness and injury, including captain Temba Bavuma who tweaked a hamstring in the second ODI, South Africa's main goal is to have everyone fit to take on Netherlands, and if they do they will look at:
Consistency in selection
Partly in an attempt to widen their talent pool and mostly because having players available for ODIs has not always been possible, South Africa have used 33 players in 33 matches since the time Mark Boucher took over in December 2019. While that is not as many as India, West Indies, Sri Lanka, England, Zimbabwe, Pakistan or Nepal, South Africa are not typically a side that operates well without structure, and several players have spoken out about their desire for consistency in selection.
The latest is the match-winner from last night, Heinrich Klaasen who has played in 20 of those 33 matches and said he feels it is "the first time I've got a decent run in a team." Klaasen has been tasked as being one of the finishers in a line-up that also includes David Miller so where, for example, does that leave Tristan Stubbs?
South Africa are yet to identify their core group of around 15 ODI players which will make World Cup selection tricky but they know they have options for each spot. The Netherlands matches are too important for them to use anyone other than what they consider their best XI, so, barring any fitness issues, we will know who they are.
Keep believing in the batting blueprint
For a while, South Africa called their style of play 'brave cricket' but over that period they rarely actually played that way. Over the last five matches (three against England and two against West Indies) captain Bavuma said they experienced "a watershed moment," and finally walked the talk. "We've been speaking and speaking about how we want to play. There have been moments before it today but when a guy goes and plays like Heinrich did, it builds that belief and confidence and I hope it also builds that trust in people who are watching us as a team."
Klaasen's 54-ball century was the fourth-fastest by a South African and ensured they swept aside a target of 261 inside 30 overs. In the second ODI, Bavuma scored a century that put them within reach of a record chase of 335 at Buffalo Park in East London. And in January, another Bavuma hundred saw South Africa chase 343 against England in Bloemfontein. They may not have a sexy name for it but South Africa's batters can play aggressively and many of them have recently opened up different scoring areas on the field. The next step is to accept that batting that way doesn't always work and some failure is inevitable, but it won't be easy to deal with any slip-ups before they get to the World Cup.

West Indies need to:

Get to the final of the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe between June 18 and July 9. Luckily for them, they have been there and done that before. West Indies were runners-up in this event in 2018 and know what it takes to navigate what can be a tricky tournament. It may not even be such a bad thing for them to go the long way around because their recent lack of ODI cricket means they have plenty to work on in terms of finding the right combinations for a World Cup. Between August 2022 and March 2023, West Indies did not play any ODIs and appointed a new captain, Shai Hope. They will soon also have a white-ball-specific coach. With so many changes, Hope also wants to see a shift in mindset to make West Indies' more competitive.
"I'd like to see the attitude improve," he said. "We need to show that die-hard fight for a lot longer. Winning is a habit, and the same way, losing can be a habit as well. We need to find ways to turn it around. As long as you have that attitude to win. Things will happen in your favour."
For that to happen, this is what they need to look at.
Sort out the batting line-up
Hope's elevation to the captaincy has necessitated a move down the order to No. 4 which appears counterintuitive at first. Hope has scored almost 60% of his ODI runs (2612 runs out of a total of 4452) in the opening berth and averages 60.72 there. But, apart from the difficulties of batting upfront, captaining and keeping wicket, Hope has been deemed too slow to start innings. His strike rate of 68.15 in the first 10 overs since August 2019, is the slowest of the six batters West Indies have used in the position. Kyle Mayers' strike rate of 82.85 is markedly better and is why he is batting at the top alongside Brandon King.
Shamarh Brooks' position at No. 3 will have to be looked at, as he has only scored one half-century in his last 13 innings, and then West Indies need to find someone at No. 5 or 6 who can act as a finisher. Rovman Powell and Nicholas Pooran were the two leading run-scorers in last season's Super50 Cup and understandably hold the positions but West Indies may look to cast the net wider, to someone like Alick Athanaze, who travelled for the Test tour to South Africa and was sixth on the domestic run-charts, or go back to the experience of a player like Shimron Hetmeyer (his issues with the board aside) or even Johnson Charles.
Add another strike bowler to the attack
While Alzarri Joseph has accepted the role of leading the pace pack, and Jason Holder's impact is so noticeable that when he left the field for treatment on his ankle in the 11th over of South Africa's reply in the Potchefstroom ODI, West Indies unravelled. They appear to be lacking some depth in this department. Shannon Gabriel was part of the ODI squad and did not play a game, despite being the joint-leading bowler in the Super50 so there's justification for picking him in Zimbabwe. West Indies may also look to someone like Obed McCoy, who has only played two ODIs but is part of the T20 playing group and whose firepower could make a real difference to the way West Indies handle opposition line-ups in the middle overs.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket