England’s roses hope to be a thorn in the Proteas women’s side
The Proteas face England in the Women’s World Cup semi-final on Thursday. It’s a repeat of the 2017 semi-final but this time South Africa start as favourites.
The England women’s cricket team is currently on a four-match winning streak. The last defeat they tasted came at the hands of the Proteas in match 13 of the Women’s World Cup, on 14 March.
An inspired performance by South African allrounder Marizanne Kapp (five for 45 with the ball and 32 off 42 with the bat) was enough to defeat the English, in a nailbiter, by three wickets in the final over. It was South Africa’s first-ever victory over England in a World Cup match.
Thursday morning’s match between the two teams will be a rematch of the 2017 World Cup semi-final, another game that went down to the wire as England won by two wickets with only two balls to spare. England went on to beat India in the final and were crowned world champions.
England will rely on the left-arm spin bowling of Sophie Ecclestone to restrict the as-of-late free-flowing South African batters. The impressive spinner has a splendid career ODI economy rate of 3.62.
Ecclestone is currently the No 1 ranked women’s ODI bowler in the world, having overtaken another left-arm off-spin bowler, Australia’s Jess Jonassen, during the World Cup. The 22-year-old Englishwoman is the leading wicket-taker in the tournament with 14 scalps so far, leading South Africa’s Ayabonga Khaka and Shabnim Ismail, who are tied on 11 apiece.
Ecclestone has been ably supported by her spin partner Charlie Dean who has claimed 10 wickets in only four matches at a spectacular average of 12.3.
On the batting front, England has been reliant on allrounder Nat Sciver and opening batter Tammy Beaumont to score the bulk of their runs. The two right-handed batters are the eighth and 13th highest run-scorers at the World Cup respectively.
Batting at number four, Sciver has amassed 273 runs at a healthy average of 54,6 in the tournament thus far. Her statistics are slightly inflated by an opening game 109 not out against tournament favourites, Australia.
The experienced Beaumont has accumulated 243 runs at an average of 34.7 in the tournament. However, 182 of those runs came in the first three matches of the tournament when she registered scores of 74, 46, and 62. In Beaumont’s last four innings she’s only scored 61 runs at an average of 15.3.
Gaps in the field
Unfortunately for England, their usually threatening fast bowlers have not come to the party in the World Cup, despite the speedier, bouncy wickets of New Zealand being a lot similar to their home conditions.
Number eight ranked ODI bowler, Kate Cross has been the most effective, having taken six wickets in seven matches. Meanwhile, Sciver, Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole have only managed 12 wickets between the three of them all tournament.
They have also had to qualify the hard way, winning four matches in a row after a slow start to the tournament. That means they are carrying momentum into the match.
After losing to South Africa, England have been forced into playing knockout cricket since, so they are well versed in the mental demands of playing under pressure.
While the Proteas have shown tremendous skill in winning matches from tough positions, after winning their first four matches they were almost into the semis with three rounds to spare. England had the opposite challenge.
“We’re in a very good place,” England’s Heather Knight told ESPNCricinfo. “We still probably haven’t played our best cricket yet, which is more exciting, I think, and something we feel like we’re building towards, hopefully at the perfect time.
“The really pleasing thing is we’ve reacted brilliantly to knockout games. We’ve been playing knockout cricket since the fourth game, so to be able to deal with that is great for going into the semi-final.
“Having that mentality to have the pressure on you and that if you lose you’re out, we’ve had that for a while now, so I think that will be a really useful thing for us.
“We’ve been used to dealing with the pressure of the last four games,” Knight said. “So having a process as individuals and as a team is quite important, and knowing what the stakes are, it’s just useful just to know that we’ve been successful and it’s brought the best out of us. I think that will build a lot of confidence going into Thursday.
“We’ll have to bring our best cricket and we’d love to obviously have the same result as 2017. It would be a little bit nicer if it wasn’t as close because that’s probably one of the most nerve-wracking finishes to a cricket game I think I’ve ever had, to make a home World Cup final.” DM