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History beckons for Proteas women in week of reckoning at ODI World Cup

History beckons for Proteas women in week of reckoning at ODI World Cup
South Africa's Marizanne Kapp (left) celebrates the wicket of New Zealand's Brooke Halliday during the 2022 Women's Cricket World Cup match between New Zealand and South Africa at Seddon Park in Hamilton on 17 March 2022. (Photo: MICHAEL BRADLEY / AFP)

The Proteas women have qualified for the World Cup semifinals after a strong round-robin phase. Can they do what the men have failed to achieve and become world champions?

It hasn’t been without tension and drama, but South Africa’s women’s cricket team secured their place in the semifinals of the one-day international (ODI) World Cup with the luxury of one group game to spare.

They are into the semifinals for a third time, but now they are favoured to reach the final for a first time. It’s a massive week ahead for South Africa.

After four consecutive wins – three of them all claimed in the final over – the Proteas’ place in the final four was confirmed when their match against the West Indies was rained out. Each team received one log point, which took the Proteas to nine points in the standings, enough to ensure second spot behind Australia.

South Africa face India in their final round-robin match on Sunday knowing they cannot move to the top of the standings after Australia won all seven matches in the first phase. But South Africa cannot drop below second either, meaning they will avoid the powerful Australians in the semifinals.

India still have a chance to make the last four if they beat South Africa, whereas the West Indies, England and even New Zealand are all vying for the two remaining places.

The fact that Hilton Moreeng’s team secured their place in the semis in relatively comfortable fashion underlines how accomplished this generation of South African women is. Even without injured skipper Dané van Niekerk, they are a formidable unit and, despite failing to defend 271 against Australia in their recent group match, are certainly a team opponents would prefer to avoid.

For star all-rounder Marizanne Kapp, whose performances with bat and ball were decisive in securing narrow wins against hosts New Zealand and defending world champions England, who they play in the semifinal is irrelevant.

“We’re just happy to have qualified today,” Kapp said after the rained-out match against the West Indies.

“We will shift our focus to our game against India. We still have a few things we would like to work on. It doesn’t matter who we come up against in the semifinal. I feel like this time around, we will be better prepared.”

By “this time around” Kapp was referring to the heartbreaking last-over loss against England in the 2017 semifinal. Knockout matches are generally fraught with tension – South Africa’s men’s team can attest to that – so all previous form is negligible once the stakes are raised. 

Batting depth issues

While the Proteas’ batting has been decent throughout the tournament – and in the case of opener Laura Wolvaardt excellent – there are still some issues to resolve. Moreeng and captain Suné Luus have not settled on who should take the crucial No 3 batting role. The position has bounced between Tasmin Brits and Lara Goodall and neither has been able to produce a big score.

Goodall has scored 12 and 15 in her two outings while Brits’s scores of 2, 23, 18 and 1 batting at No 3 are also underwhelming. It hasn’t helped that opener Lizelle Lee, one of South Africa’s premier batters coming into the tournament, has also struggled for form. She has scored only 73 runs in five innings with a top score of 36.

Although Wolvaardt has anchored the batting superbly with scores of 41, 75, 77, 67, 90 and 3, and is the tournament’s second-highest run scorer behind Australia’s Meg Lanning, the side needs more contributions at the business end.

Another usual heavy scorer, veteran Mignon du Preez, has also only chipped in with 79 runs in six innings, leaving Kapp and Chloe Tryon to make valuable runs lower down the order. Tryon has contributed a useful 116 runs at an average of 29 batting at No 7, while No 6 batter Kapp’s 150 runs at an average of 50 have been invaluable.

While Wolvaardt has piled on runs – 353 at an average of 58.83 – she has scored at a sedate strike of 74.15. That is a direct result of seeing a flurry of top-order wickets fall around her. Wolvaardt has not only been forced to be the major run contributor, which is her role, but she has also had to be more cautious to preserve her wicket.

Australia, as a counterpoint, have three batters in the top 10 run scorers at the tournament including two in the top three. Lanning, who scored a wonderful century against the Proteas, is the tournament’s leading run scorer with 358 at an average of 59.77, whereas Rachael Haynes is third with 344 runs at 57.

Both have strike rates in the mid-80s, underlining that Australia have the players to score runs at a brisk pace. That’s what makes them formidable.

“Look, we know it’s tough with us losing someone like Dane – she leaves a lot of holes within this team, so we’ve tried our best to try and conquer that and get the best solution for that number three spot,” Kapp said.

“We have struggled a bit with it, I know, but look, it’s a decision for the coaches, it’s not up to me. Yes, I’ve batted there before, but I am getting a bit older and I’m still a frontline bowler so that’s my number one skill.

“But whatever the team needs on the day… I’m happy to do that. It’s completely up to the selectors and the coaching staff.”

Shabnim Ismail takes a wicket during the 2nd One Day International match between South Africa and West Indies at Imperial Wanderers Stadium on 31 January 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Sydney Seshibedi / Gallo Images) 

Bowling strength, fielding issues

While the batting unit has struggled for consistency, the bowling attack has been steadier. The opening pair of Shabnim Ismail and Ayabonga Khaka have taken nine and 10 wickets respectively, often making early breakthroughs to put opponents under pressure. Kapp has weighed in with 10 scalps and the other wickets have been shared around.

For the Proteas, though, the fitness of Khaka and Ismail is vital because the pair have the ability to make deep inroads early on. Ismail has typically led from the front with her aggressive approach and searching line and length. Her wickets have come at an astonishing average of 17.44 and she has only conceded 3.84 runs per over. Only England’s Sophie Ecclestone has a better economy rate. Khaka’s return is also impressive. Her wickets have been taken at an average of 21.30 while she has gone at 4.42 runs an over. Kapp is also going at 4.3 an over, which is below average at the tournament.

When you consider the bowlers have operated so well, despite some poor fielding, there is a sense that this Proteas side could be so much better. In their defeat against Australia, South African fielders dropped six catches. It was unacceptable at that level and they paid the price in the final analysis.

But the pieces are in place, and all it needs is for the components to all come together at the same time. If all the batters hit form and the bowlers continue to perform as they have, backed up by better fielding, then there is far more to come.

With a bit of luck and plenty of application, the Proteas could face Australia in next Sunday’s final.

Finally beating Australia, in a World Cup final, would be the perfect scenario for this Proteas team. But a lot of cricket needs to happen before that outcome unfolds. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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