How do you prepare a team for a game in a format they hardly ever play? Hilton Moreeng, the South Africa coach who will start a rare women’s test against England in Taunton on Monday, smiled at the question.
When South Africa last played a Test, the number 1 song in the US was Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off”. On the first day of the competition, but more than 10,000 miles away in New Orleans, Solange Knowles – Beyonce’s younger sister – married Alan Ferguson. Who? Nevermind: They broke up five years later. Or before South Africa had played another Test. Yes, their drought has survived marriages. Since the women were last in whites, against India in Mysore in November 2014, South Africa’s men have played 65 Tests.
Only five of Moreeng’s squad of 15 have played first-class cricket, all in Tests; earn a total of six caps. Or the same number won by Moreeng alone during his days as a wicketkeeper for the first-class Free State side in the early 2000s.
With 37 first-class caps, who are also Test caps, the England squad are six times more experienced than their opponents. Their most recent contest in the format was not nearly eight years ago, but in January. This year. Not that England was swinging from one test to the next. They have played five since the most recent in South Africa; four against Australia, one against India, all but one equal.
Australia and England played the first women’s test at the Exhibition Ground in Brisbane in December 1934. One or both teams were involved in 173 of the 290 women’s tests played to date: almost 60%. New Zealand, India, South Africa and the West Indies have played 107. Men played 238 Tests before women made their debut. The current Headingley Test between England and New Zealand is 2,467th among men’s teams – eight and a half times as many as women have played.
South Africa will go into Monday’s game with 173 white-ball internationals since a handful of their players last drew a pair of whites. No wonder Moreeng said they struggled to adapt. “Those who are currently fighting are our batters as we have just come back from a whiteball competition against Ireland [earlier this month, when South Africa played three matches in each format],” Moreeng told a news conference on Thursday. “What has helped is the preparation we had ahead of the Ireland tour; a three and four day game where we introduced most of them to the format. The bowlers have adapted much better.
“We know that in the other two formats you can build partnerships. But in this one you have to take it session by session. It involves longer concentration, and it is more taxing on body and mind. Technically, players need sound. Everyone’s starting to understand, and they’re excited to see how it goes.”
South Africa completed their test preparations in a three-day game against England A in Arundel that concluded on Thursday. The star of the visitors’ first innings of 301 was opener Laura Wolvaardt, who batted for more than three and a half hours and got 148 balls to reach 101, then retired. That Wolvaardt succeeded may not surprise those familiar with her textbook technique and solid temperament, but it remains astonishing that she would win a century in her first senior representative two-innings game. In the same innings, Lara Goodall scored 51 and Sune Luus made 48. Wolvaardt and Goodall tied for 116. All things considered, the South Africans batted almost five hours in their first innings and dealt 489 balls.
That was enough to give hope in Moreeng: “How batters built their innings, took their time and showed application was not there in the pre-season games we had. We are very happy to see that on the back of a white ball cricket Most of our batters have spent time in the middle to understand what it takes.”
As for the bowlers, “They have to make sure they can control the excessive swing they get with the Duke ball on these courts, as well as the lengths they have to adapt to. They need patience setting up batters and working on a plan.”
There were eight South African debutants in that 2014 Test. Monday could be 10 in Taunton. The only survivors of the squadron from Mysore are Trisha Chetty, Marizanne Kapp, Lizelle Lee and Chloe Tryon. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing when you consider that South Africa lost by an innings. “We were playing well, then as a unit we lost concentration after tea and then we lost the game,” said Moreeng, referring to South Africa losing 6/25 on the second day. “It shows what a lack of concentration can do. We have to make sure everyone understands the discipline required in this game and how to stay focused and on the button because every session is critical. We have to making sure we stay focused and competitive in every session.”
Not just to perform well, but to counter with deeds, not words, Dean Elgar’s April claim: “It’s a man’s environment when it comes to playing at this level.”