England women ready for in-form South Africa
Last updated on .From the section Women's Cricket
|England women in South Africa|
|Venue: Five grounds across South Africa Dates: 7-21 February|
|Coverage: Live commentary on all games on BBC Radio (5 live sports extra or online), reports on BBC Sport website and app|
England's women return to competitive action for the first time since August when their one-day international series against South Africa begins on Sunday.
With new head coach Mark Robinson in charge for the first time in Benoni, the sides will meet in three ODIs and three Twenty20 internationals.
England have not lost an ODI to South Africa since 2004, but will not underestimate the improving Proteas.
"They're very much an up-and-coming team," batter Lydia Greenway said.
"Over the past couple of years we've seen how far women's cricket has come, so it should be a really good series and one we're all excited for," the Kent left-hander told BBC Sport.
BBC Radio will have commentary on all six matches.
So what's at stake?
All three ODIs - in Benoni (7 February), Centurion (12 February) and Johannesburg (14 February) count towards the ICC Women's Championship.
It is a tournament being staged over a two-year cycle between the summer of 2014 and the end of 2016, in which eight teams all play each other, with the top four qualifying for the 2017 ICC Women's World Cup - hosted by England.
Despite being the second best side in the world according to the ICC's current team rankings, England are fifth in the Championship table following last year's defeats by New Zealand and Australia.
While they still have series against Pakistan, West Indies and Sri Lanka to come later this year, any slip-up against fourth-placed South Africa could leave England under a little pressure to clinch automatic qualification for their own World Cup.
Greenway said: "I think it helps that everyone has to play everyone else. We've got some games in hand, but we need to get some points on the board."
|ICC Women's Championship|
Proteas on the up
Despite that 12-year wait for a win over England in the 50-over format, South Africa have won their last six ODI series since the 2013 World Cup, collecting series wins against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India.
However, the Proteas have had to wait nearly a year since their last international match.
England pace bowler Anya Shrubsole told BBC Sport: "We last played them in 2014, but South Africa have been quite consistent of late.
"Like Sri Lanka and West Indies, they've become more competitive, and I think that's good for world cricket."
Breaking new ground
Another sign of the women's game's growing profile in South Africa is the venues which will be used for this series.
While England's last tour there in 2011 featured a three-match series in Potchefstroom, this time round they will take the field on two of South Africa's most famous grounds - the Wanderers in Johannesburg, and Newlands in Cape Town - for the first time, in T20 double-headers alongside their male counterparts.
Those two double-headers will also be televised in South Africa - another first for their women's team.
Greenway said: "The double-headers give us more opportunity to show how we can play, and it's great that we're going to be playing at some of the bigger grounds like Newlands."
'New manager syndrome'
While Robinson's first selection retained most of the squad from last summer's Women's Ashes defeat by Australia, England's players are relishing the chance to impress their new coach.
"Everyone sees it as a good opportunity, someone new to impress," explained Somerset's Shrubsole.
"You see it quite a lot in football, 'new manager syndrome'. When someone comes in, everyone ups their performance and I'm sure that will be the case for us."
Greenway added: "We've just had a training camp in Sri Lanka with him, and he's brought a lot of new ideas."
England will be without injured all-rounder Natalie Sciver, who misses the ODIs with an ankle injury she sustained playing in the inaugural Women's Big Bash League in Australia.
Otherwise, they will be at full strength, as will South Africa who have named a 15-strong squad.
But despite the lack of international action since last summer, Shrubsole insisted: "The girls who've been playing in the Big Bash have been playing some very competitive cricket.
"It seems like so long since the Ashes, but everybody's raring to go, and we'll be ready."
South Africa (from): Mignon du Preez (capt), Trisha Chetty (wk), Dinesha Devnarain, Shabnim Ismail, Sinalo Jafta, Marizanne Kapp, Ayabonga Khaka, Masabatha Klaas, Lizelle Lee, Marcia Letasoalo, Sune Luus, Andrie Steyn, Chloe Tryon, Dane van Niekerk, Laura Wolfvaardt.
England (from): Charlotte Edwards (capt), Lauren Winfield, Sarah Taylor (wk), Heather Knight, Lydia Greenway, Amy Jones, Tammy Beaumont, Georgia Elwiss, Jenny Gunn, Katherine Brunt, Danielle Wyatt, Danielle Hazell, Anya Shrubsole, Kate Cross, Rebecca Grundy.