Feature

Scoring runs against spin remains the biggest challenge for South Africa and Pakistan

They may be on different ends of the points table, but there's one common factor plaguing both sides

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
11-Mar-2022
Lizelle Lee walks back after being dismissed cheaply, Pakistan vs South Africa, Women's World Cup 2022, Mount Maunganui, March 11, 2022

Atleast one SA opener has been out for single digits in every game in New Zealand this year  •  ICC via Getty Images

More runs, more quickly is the main aim of both South Africa and Pakistan as the Women's World Cup continues, albeit that they are at almost opposite ends of the points table.
South Africa have the joint-highest number of points, four, and are in semi-final contention despite not playing their best cricket and making hard work of what many thought were their two easiest games against Bangladesh and Pakistan. They have yet to score more than 223 and none of their batters have reached three figures yet, something the other teams in the top four have already managed.
Pakistan, on the other end, remain in last place with three defeats from three matches but have already put in better batting performances than at any other World Cup they've been to. Against South Africa, Pakistan recorded their highest World Cup total of 217 and against Australia, both their best partnership - 99 between Aliya Riaz and Bismah Maroof - and their highest individual score - Nahida Khan's 79 - but the runs are not translating to results.
So what's stalling these two sides?
Between them, they've played all three matches at the Bay Oval and South Africa had one in Dunedin, and conditions have been fairly slow at both venues. They've also both come up against disciplined attacks with strong spin contingents - Pakistan could barely get India's Rajeshwari Gayakwad away while Alana King, Jess Jonassen and Amanda-Jade Wellington from Australia tied them down - while South Africa struggled against Bangladesh's legspinner Rumana Ahmed and Pakistan's Ghulam Fatima. But there are also some concerns within their line-ups that both want to address before the tournament hits its second half.
For South Africa, poor starts have become an issue since they had to make do without Lizelle Lee in the warm-ups and for the first match. In all four matches they have played on the trip (two warm-up games and two in the tournament proper), one of their openers has been out in single figures, which has made things difficult for the rest of the line-up. "One of the things we need is to have a better start with the bat," Laura Wolvaardt, South Africa's opening batter said in the post-match press conference afterwards. "It's one of the things we will keep highlighting - to set it up for the people coming in at the back."
Wolvaardt has only been dismissed without scoring once in the four innings she's had in New Zealand and has scored two half-centuries, including her World Cup best of 75 against Pakistan. She is 13 runs away from becoming South Africa's highest run-getter at World Cups and wants to take it on herself to convert her starts. "I was very upset today when I went out. I get very angry when I feel like I have put in the hard work but don't take it all the way. How I went out today I felt was very dumb," she said.
She was dismissed for 75, off a leading edge when she tried to work Ghulam on the leg-side but was too early on the shot and offered a return catch back to the bowler. That sparked a collapse which saw South Africa lose three wickets for 10 runs and teeter on 120 for 5. "I want to be putting my hand up and scoring a hundred or two would be ideal. I feel like I am getting starts. It's just about focusing harder around the 70s."
Pakistan also haven't had the best starts but look forward to that improving when Javeria Khan returns from a groin injury but are also concerned about partnerships. In their two matches in the tournament before the South Africa match, only the Mahroof-Riaz stand was greater than 35. Against South Africa they had a 69-run third-wicket stand between Nahida and Omaima Sohail and a 49-run fourth-wicket stand between Sohail and Nida Dar which kept them in the game and Mahroof wants to see more. "We have spoken much about batting. Today, it was good to see Omaima and Nida Dar take the game deep," Mahroof said. "We had belief that we could do it and we will take positives into the next game, especially our partnerships."
What both teams believed they lacked was enough of an attacking approach at crucial stages of the match. South Africa identified the opening Powerplay as their downfall. They scored just 29 runs in that period. "We didn't show enough intent. We let them bowl," Wolvaardt said. "As soon as the legspinner came on and I used my feet and showed a bit more intent, it got easier. Even if you just show some intent to mess with the bowler (it can help). We'll have to find a way to score more runs in the Powerplay, whether it's rotating (strike) better or hitting the slower balls through the field."
Pakistan's opportunity to push harder came when the required run-rate was increasing and lower-order wickets were falling. With Dar settled, they could have promoted Diana Baig up the order to start the finishing job but stuck to their usual line-up and by the time Baig's turn to bat came, in the 47th over, there was not enough time for her to make a winning impact. Mahroof said Pakistan made the decision to keep the line-up as is because "Nida and Sidra were also playing well," and that if "Nida had stayed to the end, I think she could have finished the match." She conceded that Baig, who hit 13 runs off nine balls, "has shown that she can score runs for us," but said changing her batting position has not been discussed just yet although it may be ahead of their next match against Bangladesh on Monday.
That's a fixture some may expect Pakistan to win, given that this is Bangladesh's World Cup debut, but Bangladesh beat Pakistan in the qualifiers and may see the match as their chance for a first tournament win. But for Pakistan, it's the match they may be targeting as the one to get them their win after a 17 successive World Cup defeats, a streak Wolvaardt expects to be broken at this tournament. "They've come a long way. Hopefully they can cause an upset later in the tournament. I'm glad it wasn't against us," she said.
South Africa also play on Monday, against England, who have lost their first two matches and will be desperate to get points on board.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent