By Shashank Kishore in Sylhet
Batting the weak link for both Pakistan Women and South Africa Women
In January, Pakistan won two of the three T20 Internationals, including the final, in the tri-series also involving Ireland in Doha, while South Africa shared the honours by winning the 50-over series.
When teams clash as often as these two have, there is a possibility of complacency creeping into the ranks. But the teams would be aware that a slip here would leave steep curves on their roads ahead.
It has to be said that there hasn’t been much separating the sides in terms of form and experience. However, Pakistan, on account of having played two One-Day Internationals and a one-off T20I in Bangladesh last month followed by the two warm-ups, can enjoy a slight edge.
Pakistan has taken the long route to the tournament by winning all its qualifying matches in Ireland to seal a berth. It will be led by Mir, who, along with Bismah Maroof, the vice-captain, Javeria Khan and Nain Abidi form the core of the batting unit. But the experience of these players hasn't necessarily translated into consistent performances.
The bowlers, though, have time and again dealt decisive blows and given the team a chance. In the first warm-up fixture, they made England work hard to chase down a modest 106, while, in the second, they defended a paltry 81 against Bangladesh.
It's a clear case of the team making the most of what it has, and Mir explained the reasons for the way things are. “We haven't been fortunate enough to play at home," she said. "Mostly, we've had to rely on matches overseas. We've played a lot in England, Ireland where the conditions have helped the bowlers. That experience is beginning to show now, and hopefully even on these pitches, they'll be able to make an impact.”
South Africa was denied an opportunity to add finishing touches to its somewhat long preparatory season due to incessant rain last month, but before that, it beat Sri Lanka and Bangladesh convincingly at home.
But du Preez stressed on the positives the team gained out of playing in similar conditions in Qatar. "More than the home series, the series in Doha gave us a good insight into what to expect here," she said. "Playing in the heat, the humidity, the type of wickets, I think will help us. Our core group is strong and hopefully the youngsters can also build some valuable experience."
In Shabnim Ismail and Chloe Tyron, the team is blessed with two quality new-ball bowlers, while Sunette Loubser chips in with some useful offspin. Marizanne Kapp and Dan van Niekerk offer variety with their seam-ups, but it’s their ability to wield the willow lower down in the order that makes them a dangerous proposition.
What South Africa will want to address, though, is the batting fragility upfront – in the past, the inability to score quickly at the start has resulted in their downfall. Therefore, the onus, as is often the case in a T20 game, will be on the batters.
What both teams need to be mindful of, though, is the dew, given that the match will be played under lights, which means that the significance of the toss can't be downplayed.
Pakistan: Nain Abidi, Nida Dar, Javeria Khan, Sana Mir (capt), Bismah Maroof, Batool Fatima (wk), Asmavia Iqbal, Qanita Jalil, Sumaiya Siddiqi, Sadia Yousuf, Nahida Khan, Sania Khan, Sidra Ameen, Marina Iqbal.
South Africa: Mignon du Preez (capt), Trisha Chetty (wk), Shandre Fritz, Moseline Daniels, Marizanne Kapp, Lizelle Lee, Shabnim Ismail, Marcia Letsoalo, Sunette Loubser, Sune Luus, Nadine Moodley, Chloe Tyron, Dane van Niekerk, Yolandi van der Westhuzien, Andrie Steyn.