The first taste of the big stage can either galvanise a team to play fearlessly or trigger stage fright. For South Africa Women, making their first semifinal appearance at the ICC Women’s World Twenty20, it was, sadly, the latter.
In spin-friendly conditions, Anya Shrubsole took 2 for 12 in an incisive opening burst of swing bowling for England, before South Africa fell into a hole of their own making with some lackadaisical running resulting in five run-outs. That reduced England’s chase of a modest 102 into a stroll as they crossed the line with nine wickets in hand at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Mirpur on Friday (April 4).
It would, however, be grossly unfair to put down the result to South Africa’s stage fright alone, for England were at their dominating best from start to finish. The bowling upfront was backed up by some superb fielding as South Africa, who were sent in to bat, lost half their side inside the 10th over. Things could have been much worse if not for Chloe Tyron’s 31-ball 40 that allowed them to post 101 in 19.5 overs, not anywhere near what they would’ve needed to challenge England’s might.
If the first innings hadn’t deflated South Africa’s hopes, Charlotte Edwards, the England captain, and Sarah Taylor’s approach upfront would have put paid to the slimmest of miracles they would’ve hoped for. The openers batted as if they were simply having an extended net session. Taylor set the ball rolling with a whip off her hip, while Edwards got into her groove with a cover drive followed by a delicate attempted ‘Dil-scoop’ behind the keeper. Before South Africa could even bring their spinners on, England had wiped out 23 off the target in four overs.
From there on, it was just one-way traffic with the fielders sent on a leather hunt. Edwards chipped a return catch to Sune Luus, the legspinner, for a stylish 36, but Taylor brought out all her magic cards in her 47 not out, whipping, flicking, sweeping and pulling quite effortlessly, while Heather Knight held her own in an unbeaten 21 as England bossed to victory with 19 balls to spare.
It was a struggle for South Africa to even rev up their engine, let alone get moving along in first or second gear. When she chose to bowl, Edwards was perhaps mindful of the fact that South Africa chased down close to 120 in a virtual quarterfinal against New Zealand. And the decision was vindicated almost immediately by Shrubsole’s twin strikes, in an identical manner, as South Africa were dealt a body blow right at the start.
Lizelle Lee, the explosive opener, went for a third-ball duck as Shrubsole’s late inswing sneaked through the tiniest of gaps between bat and pad to cannon into the off stump. Off her next over, Trisha Chetty was bowled after playing all around a delivery that swung back in sharply to take the middle and off stump. When Yolandi van der Westhuizen was lbw to an arm ball by Rebecca Grundy, they were in all sorts of trouble at 14 for 3 in the fourth over.
They needed a calm head to take stock of the conditions. Mignon du Preez, the captain, broke the shackles by striking two fours – one over mid-on and another one over mid-off – in the sixth over, but wasn’t allowed an opportunity to build any sort of momentum as her partners committed hara-kiri, one after another.
The big-hitting Dane van Niekerk fell for a painstaking 21-ball 7 in an uncharacteristic manner, trying to steal a difficult single. The ball rolled off the pad behind the stumps as Taylor, the wicketkeeper, collected the ball and hurled down the stumps at the bowler’s end. Two balls later, Marizanne Kapp, equally capable of dismissing the bowlers, was a victim of a similar fate.
Du Preez made 23, but the innings lacked any purpose or direction. Runs were hard to come by and slogs invariably connected with the humid Dhaka air or the toe-end of the bat. One such slog resulted in du Preez holing out to deep midwicket. But the most bizarre dismissal was reserved for the end, when another run-out struck South Africa.
This time it came about due to a mid-pitch collision between Luus and Tyron. Both batters were first knocked down only to get up and run in the same direction while the stumps were removed at the other. It summed up a day of horrors for the South Africa Women, whose dream came crashing down even before they could think of giving it shape.
That meant the finale, quite fittingly, was a contest between England and Australia, the two most consistent sides by far in the women’s game.