Healthiest, most competitive South Africa women have ever been - Lizelle Lee

Lizelle Lee brought up a remarkable hundred Getty Images

Vital ranking points that could be crucial in deciding who qualifies for the women's ODI World Cup in 2021 are up for grabs as Pakistan's tour of South Africa kicks off with the first of three one-day internationals at Senwes Park in Potchefstroom on Monday.

Hard-hitting opener Lizelle Lee is delighted with the consistent improvement of the team, and particularly the batting unit, and is cautiously optimistic of their chances against the visitors.

"There is no better teacher in cricket than game time against good opposition," Lee said. "We're really fortunate to be getting more and more time out on the field. It really helps teams grow and ups the competitiveness of women's cricket around the world.

"When we go into game one on Monday, we're going to go hard because we understand the importance of the World Cup and the points needed for World Cup qualification," added Lee. "The way we are batting and bowling now and even fielding gives me confidence that we can do well in this series. We're definitely going out to get those six points, we're not going to hold back.

"Right now, because we've played so much cricket we have a team that's more confident in themselves and their abilities because we've been in enough match situations that we don't panic when things don't go our way - it's the healthiest and most competitive that we've ever been as a national team."

Hosts South Africa are currently ranked fifth and visitors Pakistan sixth in the women's championship, with just a single point separating the two teams. The eight-team championship provides the path for direct qualification for the World Cup for four teams, alongside hosts New Zealand.

South Africa, on 13 points from 12 matches, would look to improve their points position in home conditions after their recent 3-0 series win over Sri Lanka, while Pakistan would be hoping to keep up the tempo after a 2-1 series win over the West Indies. They are also without captain Dane van Niekerk, who picked up a leg injury during Sri Lanka's tour earlier this year, with Sune Luus standing in as skipper.

Australia have assured themselves of a place in the World Cup as they are at the top of the table with 22 points from 12 matches while England, who have 18 points from 15 games, will get the chance to do so in a home series against the West Indies next month. India and New Zealand are second and third on the table with 16 and 14 points, respectively.

There are also personal milestones at stake in the series for both sides. Seamer Marizanne Kapp is South Africa's top-ranked bowler in sixth position, with an eye on a move into the top five. She is only 10 points behind India's Shikha Pandey with 678 points. Just behind Kapp with 663 points is Shabnim Ismail in seventh position. For Pakistan, former captain Sana Mir could challenge for the top position among bowlers as she goes into this series in third position, just 12 points adrift of the top-ranked Jhulan Goswami of India.

The hosts' squad also includes a couple of fresh faces looking to make a strong impression. Wicketkeeper Sinalo Jafta, who is back in the national set-up for the first time in two years, said she is both nervous and excited about her re-call.

"I actually thought I got called to be told that I've missed out on the call-up, until he [Clinton du Preez, national convenor of selectors] told me that I've made it for the tour," Jafta siad. "I thought it was just for the ODIs because previously, I only ever played ODIs so when he said I was in for the whole tour, inside I was like 'finally all this hard work has brought me back here.' It's taken two years but I'm finally back. It was emotional.

"This time around, yes there are nerves, which is good. If I wasn't nervous I think I would be wasting my time, but at the same time, it's not overshadowing my confidence."

After a promising spell in the national academy, 23-year-old Nondumiso Shangase could be in line for an international debut against Pakistan. Shangase was the first black African woman to score a hundred for KwaZulu-Natal, a team she also captains, achieving the feat against Mpumalanga in a provincial match last year. Success at provincial level saw her included in the academy intake - alongside the likes of Robyn Searle, Tumi Sekhukhune and Lara Goodall - and she could now be tested in one of the allrounder slots against Pakistan.

"I was at Kingsmead practising (with the KZN women's provincial team) when Clinton (du Preez) called me and told me that I'm gonna be part of the squad in both formats," said Shangase. "I was so speechless. I froze, I didn't say anything to him, I kept quiet. I was so excited and emotional. I even cried."

"I didn't think it was gonna happen so fast. I was aiming for maybe after this year's national academy but I'm grateful," Shangase added. "By the end of this tour, I'm hoping to be a better player than before. To learn a lot about my batting and bowling because I'm an allrounder and I want to take in as much as I can so that I can get another call-up."