Two very important ICC Women's Championship series start next Saturday (8th October) - South Africa v New Zealand and West Indies v England.
It is the first time that New Zealand have ever been on tour to South Africa. Indeed the two sides have only met six times in ODIs, with New Zealand winning all six, but four of those were over 15 years ago. South Africa are just one point behind New Zealand in the ICCWC table, but they know that after New Zealand they have to travel to Australia for their last three ICCWC games. New Zealand on the other hand entertain Pakistan and will be banking on taking 6 points from those three games.
It means that South Africa really need all six points against New Zealand, which is going to be a very tall order... but not impossible. In the last eight months South Africa have recorded ODI victories over both England and the West Indies on home soil, so they know they can compete at the top level. Runs tend to be South Africa's problem, but in young Wolvaart they have a steady opener, and then the big guns - du Preez, Kapp, Lee and van Niekerk can accumulate and in Tryon and Luus they have two lusty hitters late on. New Zealand are a team in fine form - Suzie Bates is in fine touch with the bat after a summer in England and Devine, Satterthwaite and Priest will all have benefited from playing here in the summer. New Zealand's weakness is their lack of penetrative bowling and no spinners that really rip the ball. The sides are playing seven ODIs (the first three count towards the ICCWC). It should be a very even contest.
England have arrived in Jamaica in the West Indies just ahead of hurricane Matthew. Hopefully that will pass through the island early in the week and England can get some practice in ahead of their five match ODI series with the T20 World Champions. Here it is the last three games that will count towards the ICCWC standings, so England have a couple of opportunities to get their line-up right before points are won or lost.
It seems unlikely that Head Coach Mark Robinson will stray far from the line-up that beat Pakistan so convincingly over the summer, but with five spinners to choose from (Hazell, Marsh, Hartley, Ecclestone and Knight) he may well ring the changes, or perhaps even play four spinners rather than three. The brunt of the seam bowling will be down to Misses Brunt and Shrubsole, with back-up from Sciver, Elwiss and Gunn, as needed, and with Langston on hand at some time during the tour. Despite having a thumb injury the non-contracted Langston was preferred to the contracted Farrant and Cross. Quite where Danni Wyatt fits into the picture is not really clear. Had Fran Wilson been fit then she may not even have been on the plane? She is the type of player that might benefit from Robinson's nurturing - she has talent with the bat, but not always the application. If she gets a chance then she will need to grab it. She will not been thrown the ball to bowl.
But what then of the Windies? Sure they are T20 World Champions and they will not be slow to remind anyone who asks of that. But this is 50 over cricket. If Wyatt has an application problem, then the West Indians are a team of Wyatts. I generally use the word mercurial about their performances - quite simply you don't really know what you are going to get. Stafanie Taylor proved she is a world-class player in the KSL in England this year, with some outstanding innings, but she cannot carry the West Indian batting on her own in the 50 over format. Great expectations have been placed on the shoulders of young Hayley Matthews, after she burst onto the scene in Australia a couple of years ago, but since that series in which she scored 55, 89, 60 and 37, she has had poor ODI series against Sri Lanka, Pakistan and South Africa - teams she should be filling her boots against. She also had a very poor KSL with the bat here for Lancashire Thunder. Deandra Dottin too has not quite fulfilled her potential with the bat. The West Indies need her to step up now too. In addition Kycia Knight, Shaquana Quintyne, Shemaine Campbelle, Britney Cooper and the returning Shanel Daley will need some runs, if West Indies are to be competitive.
As for bowling the Windies have plenty of choice, but not a great deal of penetration. Shamilia Connell is quite sharp, but is yet to make an impact in any series. It is the spin-bowling of Mohammed, Quintyne, Matthews and Taylor, plus the slinging pace of Dottin, on which the Windies will rely. The West Indies have not beaten England in an ODI since 2009, although they have not actually played England in this format in the last three years. If England can start the series well, then they should be tough to beat and could win all three of the important ICCWC games, which would mean that they will be the second team through to the World Cup next June. With the games being livestreamed by WICB it will be a great series to watch.