It’s natural for sports teams to take lessons learnt from one game into another but to take those lessons from a fixture played over eight years ago has to be unprecedented. That’s what South Africa will have to do when they play their first Test since 2014 next week.
They’re looking back to when they played against India in Mysore, where they lost by an innings and 34 runs after a lower-order collapse of 6 for 25 in their first innings and middle- and lower-order meltdowns of 4 for 8 and 4 for 12 in the second.
“In that Test match, we were well in the game competing and then we lost concentration as a unit after tea and that’s when we lost the Test match,” Hilton Moreeng, who has been South Africa’s coach since 2012, said. “It showed what a lack of concentration can do and what losing a session does – how critical that can be. Those who were part of it understand what happened and it’s now an opportunity to show they can put it right against a team that has been playing consistently in this format.”
Four of the current squad – Lizelle Lee, Chloe Tryon, Marizanne Kapp and Trisha Chetty – played in that Test. Of those four, Chetty spent almost three hours at the crease while scoring a first-innings 56, and then spent two hours and 25 minutes in the middle while scoring 35 in the second. Tryon batted for two hours and 27 minutes for an unbeaten 30 in the second innings. Their experience will be crucial to a line-up that is still finding its feet in the longer format.
Moreeng said the batters were having a more difficult time adjusting than the bowlers but have progressed well from their training camp last month. “The ones that are battling with it currently are our batters, because we’ve just come from a white-ball tour in Ireland,” he said. “What has helped is the prep we had prior to the Ireland tour. We had a three-day and four-day game where we introduced most of them to red-ball cricket.”
And the fruits of that labour showed in the three-day warm-up match against England A. Laura Wolvaardt scored her first red-ball ton, Lara Goodall, batting at No. 3, made 51, and Andrie Steyn, Wolvaardt’s opening partner, hit a second-innings 63.
“To see how the batters have set up their innings, taking their time and their application – that’s something that wasn’t there in the preparation matches that we had and we are very happy to see that on the back of white-ball cricket,” Moreeng said. “The application we see from batters shows that the improvement is there. Getting into the Test, we can say that most of our batters have spent time in the middle to be able to understand what’s required.”
Moreeng would not give away much about the line-up he intends to play in the Test but on the evidence of the warm-up match, Lee is likely to bat in the middle order, flanked by captain Sune Luus and Kapp, who will headline the pace attack. South Africa are likely to go in seam-heavy, with Shabnim Ismail and Ayabonga Khaka as first-choice (though both were rested from the warm-up match) and Anneke Bosch (3/17) and Tumi Sekhukhune (2/27) enjoying good outings in Arundel. “It’s an experienced [bowling] unit,” Moreeng said. “With the Duke ball, they have to make sure they can manage whatever excessive swing they get on this wicket. And the patience around setting up batters and working towards a plan. There’s enough time to make plans and execute your skills.”
While the batters and bowlers have been getting skill-specific in their preparation, the squad as a whole has been preparing for successive days of cricket, which they are also unused to. “Our conditioning has been good. We knew the Test was coming so it was put in their conditioning plans. There’s nothing that beats time in the legs. The two games we had back home gave them an idea of what could happen and after four days we could see who was where,” Moreeng said. “Test cricket is more taxing on the body and the mind and everyone understands that. They’re more excited to see how it goes.”
And hopeful that, despite the ICC chair Greg Barclay’s feeling that women’s Tests won’t form a big part of cricket’s future, this is the start of a longer-term plan to play red-ball cricket. “Ideally it’s a format we want to see in women’s cricket because of everything it brings to the game,” Moreeng said. “If your skills are good as far as playing Test cricket is concerned, you can transfer the basics to the other two formats.”