With South Africa winning the 2nd T20, that series now stands at 1-1; and with van Niekerk in the form she’s in, you’d be a fool to bet against the Women Proteas taking the silverware in the decider on Sunday.
There is little doubt that South Africa continue to improve, and I stand by my predictions that (1) they are a very good bet to reach the 2017 World Cup final, and (2) Dane van Niekerk will be the best player in the world in her generation… Meg Lanning or no Meg Lanning!
South Africa’s success has been generally attributed to the impact of increasing professionalism, with most of the team now on semi-pro contracts. But it is also the case that they seem to have been blessed with some very good young players – not just van Niekerk, but Suné Luus, for example – a leg-spinner whose action is so smooth you have to wonder if she actually has a shoulder… or does her arm just rotate in a large spoonful of treacle?
Meanwhile England have… Tammy Beaumont – over 50 internationals, with a highest score of 44 and an average just-about scraping into double-figures.
Let there be no doubt that we consider “TB” a very, very good county player. If she were a man, she would have had a solid career at a middling First Class county… a Notts or a Somerset… with a benefit year at the end of it, followed by a comfortable retirement, perhaps in a coaching position at a minor public school… doubtless earning a lot more that she does now as a centrally contracted England professional.
But one thing she probably wouldn’t have done is played for England.
So you have to ask what Mark Robinson saw that persuaded him to select her in his squad for the World T20?
Well.. in fact… you don’t have to ask, because we know – he saw her in the nets at Loughborough. And yet it is increasingly clear to everyone who has followed the game for a number of years (and to be fair to Robinson, he’s been very honest that he hasn’t…) that the nets at Loughborough just aren’t walking the walk.
Ask yourself this: which England players have got better over the past two years, since they holed-up at Loughborough as “full time pros”?
(With apologies to Private Eye…)
- Heather Knight.
- That’s it!
And even in the case of (1) we suspect this has got a lot to do with the two winters she has spent out in Australia, under the tutelage of the excellent Julia Price at Tasmania Roar / Hobart Hurricanes.
It is hard not to think that England stand in sharp contrast to South Africa’s bright, young future – an aging squad, at least one of whom will almost certainly never play international cricket again; and a very shallow pipeline, which leaves us turning back to players who have already shown that they don’t have quite what it takes at this level.
If Mark Robinson didn’t know it then, we imagine he’s realising it now: there is a vast gulf between English domestic cricket and the international game, and players who are very good at county, and look classy in the nets against a bowling machine they know better than the back of their own hand, can be found-out awfully quickly in the heat of international battle.
When we first met Robinson back in November, he told the assembled press corps that England didn’t need radical change. Perhaps he was just being polite to the old regime? Perhaps not? But when Robinson said that, the editor and I glanced at each other, both thinking the same thing – if we are going to compete for world cups, radical change over the longer term is really now the only option we’ve got!