By Shashank Kishore in Sylhet
Without the pressure of expectations on it, Ireland Women might be able to express itself better than it has so far
With New Zealand Women winning three matches in a row and Australia breathing down its neck with two emphatic victories, nothing less than two points against Ireland Women in the Group A fixture at the Sylhet Divisional Stadium on Saturday (March 29) will suffice for South Africa.
The batting is still a concern. The decision to experiment with two new openers in Dane van Niekerk and Lizelle Lee worked against Pakistan, but fell flat against Australia. But with Mignon du Preez, the captain, wholeheartedly backing the young openers to shine, they will have yet another opportunity to settle into their new role.
The middle order is accomplished, but has looked rusty because of the lack of match time over the last month due to poor weather conditions back home, and that has given an added edge to the team’s training sessions here.
Among the bowlers, in Shabnim Ismail and Chloe Tyron, South Africa has an ideal left-right combination with the new ball, while Sunette Loubser and Sune Luus form good spin twins.
Ireland didn't have the luxury to ease its way into the tournament in its first two games – against New Zealand and Australia – which were the toughest it could have asked for. And though its encouraging performance against Pakistan Women and South Africa in Qatar in January this year showed promise, the manner in which it has been overwhelmed so far is an indication of the gap it has to bridge.
"The positives are we are getting the chances; the negative, of course, is we aren't grabbing it," said Isobel Joyce, the captain, on the team's failures so far.
Of course, Ireland have pride to play for if nothing else, given that the male counterparts were sent packing from the qualifiers despite winning two of their three matches.
And if the girls needed an inspirational figure at the top, they couldn't have asked for anyone better than Trent Johnston, the former captain of the men’s team.
It was perhaps an issue of stage fright, for the fielding and bowling were ruthlessly exposed in both games, quite a far cry to their performances in the warm-ups and the World T20 qualifiers in June last year. "Our batting has shown signs of what we can do if we chase totals that are lower," said Isobel. “When you’re one of the lower-ranked teams, you have to focus on yourselves. You get good value for your shots here, but when you make mistakes like bowling loose balls and dropping catches, you have to look inwards and not at the opponents. We’ll try and draw from those experiences and hopefully come up better."
The young team that can only get better with time draws a lot of inspiration from the men's team, for Ireland has been easily one of the more accomplished associates over a period of time. "We were very obviously disappointed for them, they worked so hard,” admitted Isobel. “But we have also learnt a lot from them, the way they train, prepare and execute their plans. A lot of these girls are still getting accustomed to the challenges."
In Lucy O'Reilly and Elena Tice, South Africa has two promising spinners for who the tour is an apprenticeship. "If you take me out of the equation, our bowling attack is very young," said Isobel of her spinners. "Elena is 16, Lucy is 14 and both of them have bowled well in patches. It's great to have youngsters in the squad.
"I was nearly as young as her (O’Reilly) when I started and I realised how much fun it was. It's important to give them enough exposure. Lucy just throws it up around; the passion for cricket is enormous. Maybe she'll even get double marks in school, but am sure she's happy missing classes to be here."
Ireland doesn’t have the pressure of any mathematical calculations like the South Africans do, and maybe that will help it express themselves in a manner yet to be seen in the tournament.
South Africa: Mignon du Preez (capt), Trisha Chetty (wk), Shandre Fritz, Dane van Niekerk, Yolandi van der Westhuzien, Moseline Daniels, Marizanne Kapp, Lizelle Lee, Shabnim Ismal. Marcia Letsoalo, Sunette Loubser, Sune Luus, Nadine Moodley, Chloe Tyron, Andrie Steyn.
Ireland: Isobel Joyce (capt), Mary Waldron (wk), Cecelia Joyce, Louise McCarthy, Melissa Scott-Hayward, Clare Shillington, Laura Delany, Emma Flanagan, Amy Kenealy, Jennifer Gray, Kate McKenna, Lucy O’Reilly, Eimear Richardson, Rebecca Rolfe, , Elena Tice.