Dane van Niekerk, South Africa's long-time regular captain, has not made the cut for the T20 World Cup next month. Van Niekerk, who has not played international cricket since September 2021, did not meet Cricket South Africa's fitness requirements and has been excluded on those grounds. Sune Luus will captain the squad at the tournament.
Luus has been leading the side in van Niekerk's absence, including in the ongoing tri-series at home, involving India and West Indies. South Africa will play the final on February 2 against India in East London after finishing second on the points table between the two visiting sides. Marizanne Kapp, van Niekerk's wife, has withdrawn from the match on personal grounds.
"Dané was given an extensive opportunity to meet the minimum criteria, or the fitness benchmark for eligibility into the World Cup," Clinton du Preez, women's selection convener said. "She recently did another fitness test and unfortunately did not meet the minimum criteria, and therefore she's missed out. It's purely based on the not meeting of the fitness criteria that she's missed out."
South Africa's fitness standards require female cricketers to run 2-kilometres in 9 minutes 30 seconds, and ESPNcricinfo has learnt van Niekerk was over by 18 seconds, but did achieve a personal best in the test. She was most recently tested on January 27.
Van Niekerk has been recovering from a broken ankle and had failed to meet the fitness requirements for the tri-series as well. However, coach Hilton Moreeng had believed at the time that van Niekerk would be ready for the World Cup. Moreeng had said that van Niekerk had been part of the team camp before the tri-series and had trained with them as well. Van Niekerk had lost 10kg at that time since last year's Hundred and had met all her markers except the 2km time trial.
When asked whether van Niekerk could have been tested in a different way, du Preez said the strength and conditioning expert had asked if they "could use a different option" to test van Niekerk but when she was tested on the treadmill, van Niekerk did not make the mark there either.
South Africa have started rigorously applying fitness standards over the last two years and despite du Preez admitting that her skills as a player and leader will be missed, he said the selection process needed to be applied equitably. "Dané has been an integral part of the team. Her skill-set will always be missed on the field. We've had this discussion with her. We've extensively reminded her of that, and appreciated the hard work that she's put in to try to get to the fitness levels," he said. "It's about remaining consistent with our decisions. Many other players have gone down this route. Everyone is quite familiar with the situation and what is required."
Last year, van Niekerk's team-mate Lizelle Lee was also dropped from the national team after failing her body composition test when her weight was deemed over the standard set for her. Lee retired after that and said she felt victimised and body-shamed at the time, as well as questioned why the standard was not more individualised.
Without Lee, van Niekerk, and recently retired Mignon du Preez, South Africa go into the T20 World Cup with less experience than they may have liked but du Preez was confident that the squad they've selected has covered all the bases. "We considered everything. We had the discussion around what happens if Dané doesn't make it; how does that impact us? From a player point of view we've created succession in the leadership within the team. The morale of the team is fine. We were out yesterday as a team and they were chatting together nicely. I believe the team have pulled together and that they accept the decision we have made, and that is required for the good of our players."
South Africa will kick-off the World Cup at home in a Group A fixture against Sri Lanka in Cape Town on February 10. Group A also has Australia, New Zealand and Bangladesh whereas Group B will feature England, India, Ireland, Pakistan and West Indies.
South Africa Women squad for T20 World Cup: Sune Luus (capt), Chloe Tryon (vice-capt), Anneke Bosch, Tazmin Brits, Nadine de Klerk, Lara Goodall, Shabnim Ismail, Sinalo Jafta, Marizanne Kapp, Ayabonga Khaka, Masabata Klaas, Laura Wolvaardt, Nonkululeko Mlaba, Delmi Tucker, Annerie Dercksen. Non-traveling reserves: Micaéla Andrews, Tebogo Macheke, Tumi Sekhukhune