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Rusty South Africa need their top order to do better

Lizelle Lee's return could revitalise their batting ahead of bigger challenges

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Sune Luus shows the full face of the bat while playing a shot, South Africa vs Bangladesh, Women's World Cup 2022, Dunedin, March 5, 2022

Sune Luus drives through mid-off  •  Getty Images

"Take the point and let's go."
That was Marizanne Kapp's message to her team-mates after South Africa beat Bangladesh by 32 runs in their World Cup opener.
The final wicket of Fariha Trisna was Kapp's first of the match. But her celebrations were minimal, to the point of being mildly annoyed. She stood with hands on her knees, with exhaustion writ on her face. She had the expression of someone who knew this performance did not go according to plan.
They came into the World Cup on the back of five consecutive series wins, but South Africa were rusty and just managed to drag themselves past 200 on a slow surface. For more than a while, it appeared as if they were unlikely to defend their score.
Coach Hilton Moreeng put some of it down to "nerves," but also acknowledged South Africa were "sloppy" and that it wont be good enough against better teams. Sune Luus, meanwhile, wanted them to get bigger scores.
Unlike New Zealand, West Indies or Australia, South Africa didn't have a centurion in their innings. Since their arrival in New Zealand, they have looked rusty. They lost both their warm-ups and failed to cross 250 in their first game. No one managed to top Kapp's 42.
Tazmin Brits has made 21 runs in three innings on tour, No.3 Lara Goodall has scored 41 and No. 5 Mignon du Preez has made 36. Without Lizelle Lee, who arrived late following the birth of her first child, the batting has stumbled.
Moreeng knows they are capable of better. "It's not a concern, more a frustration because we know what the players who find themselves in these positions are capable of," he said. "The players in this position are capable of a lot more. They also know that."
Lee should be back to take her place at the top of the order for South Africa's next match against Pakistan. Moreeng, for one, doesn't believe she is short on practice "She has been training, even when she was at home with her family," he said. "And knowing the player that she is, she will want to jump straight into it."
But South Africa will expect more from the likes of Goodall and du Preez to back up what Luus believes is a "great bowling attack." Despite periods where they seemed to drift away, with the new-ball pair lacking bite, South Africa pulled themselves back thanks to Ayabonga Khaka's consistency.
Khaka took 4 for 32, including her 100th in the format. She was able to execute in conditions Moreeng believed suited Bangladesh's style of play more. "Ayabonga has been one of the unsung heroes of this attack," he said.
"She has been one of those very consistent cricketers, she is quite economical and has worked extremely hard around her game and how to improve. She is a very good student of the game, she assesses conditions really well, as well as opposition. Maybe that's what gives her the edge."
South Africa move to the Bay Oval for their next match against Pakistan on March 11. It's a venue where run-scoring may be a little quicker, but they have work to do in other departments too.
They were lethargic in the field, and dropped two catches, while Bangladesh were energetic and kept the pressure on. For a side on their World Cup debut, there appeared few signs of nerves in the Bangladesh camp.
Eventually, South Africa still managed to get out of jail courtesy Kapp. "The important thing was to make sure we get the job done on the day," Moreeng said. " As we go along in the World Cup, we will start improving and everyone will start seeing what they are capable of."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent