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Cricket

Proteas geared up for Australian T20 World Cup challenge

Proteas geared up for Australian T20 World Cup challenge
South Africa’s Proteas celebrate after beating England by six wickets in their first match in the Women’s T20 World Cup in Perth, Australia on Sunday. (Photo: Twitter / @kappie777)

The Proteas are on the brink of qualifying for their first major global final at the T20 Women’s World Cup, but first, they have to overcome the hosts and pre-tournament favourites Australia in Sydney.

The Proteas have only been in a semi-final position once previously – in 2014 where they lost in the semi-finals. Six years on they are better placed to go one step further with eight survivors of that experience in the squad. But Australia, the Proteas semi-final opponents in Thursday’s Women’s T20 World Cup, have won the tournament four times previously and are consistently the best team in the game. The size of South Africa’s task is mammoth.

If there is a kernel of hope for the Proteas, it’s that at this tournament Australia have struggled under home expectations. They lost their opening group match against India, which left them under pressure to qualify for the last four. They eventually managed to earn their semi-final place with three wins from their remaining three matches – over Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and New Zealand.

South Africa, by contrast, have strolled into the semis, topping their group along the way. They won three out of three (against England, Thailand and Pakistan) before rain forced their final match against the West Indies to be abandoned. By that stage the result was academic as the Proteas and England had already secured their semi-final places.

Rain is again the major talking point going into the semi-finals. The International Cricket Council (ICC) inexplicably did not factor in a reserve day for the semi-finals. With both semis – the other between India and England – being played at the same venue on the same day, predicted heavy rain could have a direct impact on the outcomes. 

Each team has to bat for a minimum of 10 overs to constitute a match. At the time of writing weather forecasts were dire and there was a high possibility that one, or both semi-finals at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) could be rained off.

Under the tournament rules, if a match is not completed then the highest ranked team from the group stages will advance to the final. If both semi-finals are rained off India and South Africa would advance to Sunday’s final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

It’s a scenario no team wants, not even the Proteas who would be beneficiaries of the rule.

“Yes, it works in our favour, 100%, but if I was on the other end I’d probably be really upset,” Proteas captain Dane van Niekerk told the media.

“Everybody works really hard to get here, so to lose out with weather is not ideal. It shouldn’t be like that. I think for semi-finals and finals there should be reserve days.”

India captain Harmanpreet Kaur concurred: “As a team I think there should be [a reserve day] because every team is here to play cricket and if we get a reserve day that will be a great idea.”

The ICC justified their position in a statement. “The ICC T20 World Cups are short, sharp events where reserve days are factored in for the final. Allowing for any other reserve days would have extended the length of the event, which isn’t feasible. There is a clear and fair alternative should there be no play in any of the semi-finals with the winner of the group progressing.”

Weather distractions aside, the Proteas have to focus on beating the hosts and reigning champions and they might have to do it without top all-rounder Marizanne Kapp, who is struggling with a viral illness.

South Africa have lost their four previous T20 World Cup encounters against Australia, so the task they face is massive in every respect.

“Marizanne is very important, everybody around the room knows how important she is for our side,” Van Niekerk said.

“She’s not only one of the best batters in the world but she’s one of the best all-rounders. At the end of the day, it is the semi-final, yes, but a player’s health is more important than I guess the game.

“We are lucky enough to have 15 very talented cricketers here, so whatever decision is made, I’m confident that the players will put up their hand and try and make sure that she’s not missed too much. Suné [Luus] has picked up many times in Marizanne’s role in the batting. I’m not too worried but hopefully she gets up in good spirits tomorrow so we can include her in the team.”

Australia are also without star player Ellyse Perry who has been ruled out of the remainder of the tournament due to a hamstring strain. She is the most decorated player in the Aussie side but the hosts have heaps of experience to draw on.

 “We’ve got a few options we are looking at to replace Ellyse, obviously we can’t truly replace her but we feel like we have a number of different options,” captain Meg Lanning said. 

“I think we’ve shown we don’t rely on one or two players and I think that’s really important, especially in the T20 format, that you have a number of different people who can contribute under different circumstances. We’ve shown that throughout and again heading into this semi-final I’m extremely confident that we’ve got the firepower to deliver and get the win.”

For South Africa’s Chloe Tryon, the thought of the match being abandoned due to poor weather doesn’t sit well with her. She wants to earn the right to play in the final.

“It’s their home ground, we know there’ll be a lot of people supporting them,” Tryon said. “We have to make sure we are switched on from the first ball. We want to play the world champions, we have wanted that for a while, and to play them in a semi-final is the biggest game for us.”

 The match starts at 10am on Thursday. DM

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