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Feature

West Indies, South Africa cast worried eye over batting line-ups ahead of high-stakes clash

With spots in the semi-finals on the line, both teams are hoping for improved displays with the bat

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
23-Mar-2022
Hayley Matthews' scores have tailed off after a strong start to the tournament  •  ICC via Getty Images

Hayley Matthews' scores have tailed off after a strong start to the tournament  •  ICC via Getty Images

West Indies are banking on an improved batting performance as they make a bid to win their final Women's World Cup league-stage match against South Africa and strengthen their chances of reaching the knockouts. Currently, West Indies are on six points and need a victory and other results to go their way to reach the semi-finals, but know they won't get there unless they put more runs on the board after failing to cross 170 in their last four matches.
After starting the tournament strongly with 259 for 9 against New Zealand in their opening match, West Indies have steadily made smaller totals: 225 for 6 against England, 162 against India, 131 against Australia, 140 for 9 against Bangladesh and 89 for 7 in a rain-reduced encounter against Pakistan. Of those, West Indies were only chasing in the match against India and their dwindling bat-first efforts have put their attack under significant pressure as the tournament has progressed.
"It's really difficult, especially as a bowler, that you have to go out and defend small totals, but hopefully tomorrow we'll have all the batters showing up to the party and putting runs on the board," Anisa Mohammed, the West Indies offspinner, said ahead of the South Africa match. "We know that some players have performed and some haven't, so runs are due from some of the other players and we're hoping that tomorrow will be the day."
West Indies' inconsistency in run-scoring is evidenced in the statistics. They only have one batter among the tournament's top 10 run-getters - Hayley Matthews - and even her form has sagged. Matthews scored 119 in the opener and 45 and 43 in the two matches that followed, but 0, 18 and 1 since. Shemaine Campbelle, Deandra Dottin and Stafanie Taylor have recorded half-centuries but those innings have been surrounded by low scores. Other than her one fifty, Taylor has scores of 30, 0, 1, 4 and 18, and averages 17.16 in the tournament.
It didn't help West Indies that they started the tournament without their preferred opener, Rashada Williams, who was ruled out of the early matches with a concussion, and that Kycia Knight, batting mostly at No.3, has not got into double figures. This has meant that unless Matthews and Dottin have fired, the middle order has routinely had to do a rebuilding job.
Interestingly, South Africa have faced similar problems. Their campaign began without Lizelle Lee, who arrived late following the birth of her first child, and their experiment with Tazmin Brits at the top of the order did not work. Once Lee returned, they moved Brits to No. 3, but after scores of 8, 2, 23 and 18 and problems getting off strike, they've dropped her entirely and selected Lara Goodall in her place. Lee, meanwhile, much like Dottin, has not lived up to her reputation, while Laura Wolvaardt has been South Africa's stand-out batter.
She's the second-highest run-scorer in the tournament and has reeled off four successive half-centuries, but hasn't yet reached three figures. In fact, no South African batter has at this tournament and Wolvaardt looks their best bet, but she, by her captain's own admission, needs to accelerate a little earlier on to get there.
"I think she would think she's batting too slow at times," Sune Luus said. "But I think if it isn't for her 90 or big 50 on the day, you know, we wouldn't be getting our scores that we've been getting. Laura's world-class. I know she always measures herself up towards a Meg Lanning or some of the greater batters in the world but I think she's up there as well. And you always have to remember she's only 22 and she's breaking records already. So I think she's been phenomenal and she's been the glue to our batting line-up."
Apart from Luus, who has scored three fifties and averages 45.20 at this World Cup, and cameo roles from Marizanne Kapp, who has been batting at No.6 in this tournament, Wolvaardt hasn't had much to work alongside. Mignon du Preez, like Taylor, has barely showed the worth of her experience. While Taylor has one half-century, du Preez has not crossed 20 in nine ODIs this year and South Africa will need her if they want to get over 250 on many more occasions.
So far, they've only managed that once in the tournament, scoring 271 for 5 against Australia, and though it was their best total, it was not enough to challenge the table-toppers. Luus put the result down to the bowlers not showing up as well as they have thus far - and there were also four dropped catches - and praised the batting effort, which has become better as the tournament has gone on.
"We batted brilliantly to get to 270. I think obviously they're one of the best bowling attacks in the world as well and for our batters to match that and to get 270, we did a brilliant job," she said. It's just about getting the bowlers to fight on the day as well and obviously didn't happen yesterday, but I think that's a rare thing for our bowlers. I'm pretty sure they'll bounce back again tomorrow."
West Indies' faith also lies in their attack, provided their batters can give them something to work with. "We know that we have a good enough bowling team that we'll be able to go out and defend our total," Mohammed said. "So I think it's more a matter of our batting giving us some runs to work with and hopefully we can take it up in the field as well."
West Indies will need to up the ante in the outfield because they've had more than their fair share of missed opportunities. ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data puts their dropped catches at 15, the most by any team in the tournament so far. South Africa are in second place, with 14, but both teams have also claimed some blinders. Dotting flew airborne to dismiss Laura Winfield-Hill in West Indies' second match while du Preez was in similar action when she completed a grab off Australia's Rachael Haynes.
Overall, then, these two teams can consider themselves fairly well-matched as recent results show. Two of their last five encounters have ended in ties, and their high-stakes clash may add more drama to a World Cup of thrillers. Mohammed and Luus both called it "crucial," albeit more so for West Indies. Nothing less than victory will do for them, and they're prepared to give it their all.
"We've found ourselves in this position, having a must-win match tomorrow and then hope that South Africa can beat India or there can be an upset somewhere along, but we can only control the things we can control," Mohammed said. "We have to play our best game tomorrow and just sit and wait and hopefully be able to go into the semi-finals."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent