National women’s cricket coach Noor Rhode says his team has setttled into camp, ahead of their opening World Cup qualifier against Bermuda in Stellenbosch on Monday, which kicks off the Proteas quest for one of two remaining 2009 ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup places.
"Yes, we’ve just started now, and it’s quite hot here, it’s actually showing us what we’re going to get for the next week-and-a-half, here in Stellenbosch," Rhode told gsport on Wednesday evening.
Eight teams in two pools (See competition pools below) will compete the World Cup qualification tournament in three initial matches, followed by the semi-finals, play-offs and the final on Sunday, 24 February, in Stellenbosch.
Defending champions Australia have already earned entry to their home World Cup tournament, which will also be contested by India, England, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, and the two sides to contest the final of this Qualifier tournament.
South Africa is currently ranked seventh according to the official ICC rankings, and can expect tough competition from Ireland (eighth place), the Netherlands (ninth) and Pakistan (10th).
The ranking follows South Africa’s dismal performance in the previous World Cup hosted by South Africa, in which it finished in seventh place out of a total of eight participating nations.
But the South African squad has recently benefited from international exposure, and completed successful tours abroad which included them earning convincing victories over both Pakistan, and the Netherlands, their most respected competitors in this tournament’s Pool A.
"I’m pretty confident in my team," South African skipper Cri-Zelda Brits told ICC News. "We’ve come a long way since that World Cup. We’ve worked on aspects of our game we’ve lacked, (and) I’ve got every single bit of confidence in our team that they will do well, and go through to the World Cup."
"We’re very confident," Kerri Laing, SA Women’s Cricket Association’s President told gsport on Wednesday. "We’ve played against Holland recently, we’ve played against Pakistan recently, and beat them both pretty convincingly, so confidence is high."
One of that tour’s most successful batswomen was Johmari Logtenberg, who recently quit cricket to focus on golf, while young Northerns opener Mignon du Preez has also announced her unavailability. "These were two of our top-order batters. They are definitely going to be missed," said Laing.
"But at least it opens up an opportunity for someone else. We’ve still got a nicely-balanced side, and I hope all of the girls will come to the party, and make up for Johmari and Mignon’s absence."
Coach Rhode is confident the changes will not leave his side compromised: "I’m actually very happy with the squad, although we had the withdrawal of Johmari Logtenberg (and) Mignon du Preez," said Rhode.
"The replacement for (Du Preez) is Charlize van der Westhuizen, who is doing very well in the provincial leagues, and the replacement for Johmari is Alicia Smith, who is an old hand in the South African set-up."
"From my point of view," continued Rhode, "We need to play in the final! The team that we are playing (against), they’re not that experienced, but cricket is a funny game, you can’t underestimate the opposition. We need to play it game-by-game, and go all-out at our opposition."
"I think Ireland has a very good chance of going through, and meeting us in the semi-finals, or in the final. Pakistan is not a bad side, they’ve got some good cricketers in their side, and I know they also want to qualify in this tournament, so they will also work very hard on their game," concluded Rhode.
The Women’s World Cup qualifier will be held in Stellenbosch from 18 to the 24 February 2008, with all matches scheduled to start at 10:00. For a full tournament schedule, visit the Women’s World Cup Qualifier Tournament page at the official ICC website.