Sport

CRUNCH-TIME CRICKET

History beckons Proteas women as they eye maiden World Cup final

History beckons Proteas women as they eye maiden World Cup final
South Africa's Laura Wolvaardt bats during a ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup match against hosts New Zealand at Seddon Park in Hamilton on 17 March 2022. (Photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz / BackpagePix)

The Proteas women are on the brink of a first one-day international World Cup final berth, after tripping at the penultimate hurdle on two previous occasions.

Ten years after Hilton Moreeng took over as head coach of the senior national women’s side, he and his charges are on the cusp of etching their names into not only South African cricket history, but the annals of global cricket.

Should the Proteas women beat England in the second semifinal of the Women’s 50-over World Cup in the early hours of Thursday, they will become the first senior South African cricketing side to make it into the final of an International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup.

“Over the past two to three years they’ve set the benchmark for cricket in our country,” Proteas men Test captain Dean Elgar said recently of the World Cup hopefuls who tasted defeat just once in seven games during the group phase of the global showpiece.

“They’re inspiring a lot more females to go out there and play cricket and I don’t think the buck stops there. They’re inspiring a lot more boys and men to continue playing the game. They’ve been brilliant.”

Started at the bottom, now we’re here

Indeed, this group – some of whom were already present when Moreeng was charged with the responsibility of harvesting and honing the skills of the crème de la crème of South African women’s cricket – have evolved into world beaters.

Captain Sune Luus during the first ODI of the West Indies women tour of South Africa at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on 28 January 2022. (Photo: ©Christiaan Kotze / BackpagePix)

The team’s performances in this World Cup – though not as emphatic, clinical and domineering as they have the potential to be – have shown their tremendous growth and maturity over the past decade.  

“In the beginning it was tough,” Moreeng reminisced in a 2021 interview with DM168.

“[Team] management was just a coach, an analyst, a manager and a fitness trainer. So, we didn’t have that coaching capacity or resources… It’s only now that we have them. And the more hands we have for the players to perfect their skills, the better.

It is this gradual development the Proteas will look to tap into when they face the defending 50-over champions, England, in Christchurch.

When they were crowned world champions in 2017, the English edged the South Africans by two wickets in the last four. Now, with almost all those Proteas players still present in the team set-up, and better for the experience, they will be out to exorcise the demons of that defeat.

It won’t be a walk in the park though. After starting their title defence with three group-phase defeats on the bounce (including a three-wicket loss to South Africa), the English are on a four-game winning streak.

“We haven’t brought that (2017 semifinal defeat) up. That was five years ago. Teams have changed, and players have grown a lot since that semifinal. We are a way better team in the past five years so that’s in the past and we are looking to tomorrow as a whole new game, in a whole new World Cup,” said Proteas captain Sune Luus.

Simply the best

The Proteas boast some of the best players in the world. Against the resurgent English they will all have to come to the party to ensure safe passage to the final, where favourites Australia await the winner. The Aussies demolished West Indies by 157 runs on Wednesday to seal a final berth.

Proteas women captain Sune Luus in action during their World Cup clash with Australia at the Basin Reserve in Wellington, New Zealand on 22 March 2022. (Photo: John Cowpland / www.photosport.nz / BackpagePix)

If the Proteas are to have an opportunity to avenge their only defeat of this World Cup, at the hands of the Aussies, the likes of Laura Wolvaardt, Marizanne Kapp and Shabnim Ismail will have to lead from the front once more.

Wolvaardt has scored more runs (433) at the World Cup than any other player and her excellent form in New Zealand has been noticed as she recently moved up two places in the batting rankings, overtaking two Australians in the process.

The stylish South African has made five half-centuries from seven innings at the 50-over showcase, with her top score of 90 coming in that solitary loss to Australia in Wellington last week.

Skipper Luus has also chipped in with the bat at key moments, claiming three half-centuries (the second-most behind Wolvaardt) and 249 total runs to date. Vice-captain Chloe Tryon and all-rounder Marizanne Kapp have also been useful with the bat when the Proteas have found themselves against the wall.

Meanwhile, fiery fast bowler Ismail and partner in batter bombardment Ayabonga Khaka sit joint second on the wicket-takers’ list, with 11 scalps apiece. Kapp features on this list too, boasting 10 total wickets and the best figures of the tournament so far after her five for 45 against the English earlier in the tournament.  

Protea Laura Wolvaardt fields against Australia during their World Cup match at the Basin Reserve in Wellington, New Zealand on 22 March 2022. (Copyright photo: John Cowpland / www.photosport.nz / BackpagePix)

“It has become a team effort. Everybody is stepping up at the right times and everyone has been taking responsibility when they are out there in the middle and they have to do a job, that’s been our biggest thing,” Luus said during the pre-game press conference.

“Normally we would kind of just give up, but over the past few years we have shown the fight. We have shown the character. The biggest thing for us is people taking responsibility for what they are doing.”

The players will have to dig deeply into all that experience at this penultimate hurdle in their quest to conquer the world. But, as they’ve proven in this tournament, they are capable of winning even when their performance is far from its best.

The crunch tie will start at 3am South African time and will be broadcast on SuperSport. DM

 

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