Looking back to South Africa’s 49-run loss to India in the Super Six on the eve the ICC Women’s World Cup Qualifier 2017 final between the same teams, Dane van Niekerk’s assessment was succinct: “We kind of stagnated and we played in our crease a bit,” said South Africa’s captain, asking her batters to be more aggressive. “It’s just a mindset shift.”
That mindset shift was evident right from the first over after South Africa chose to bat in the P Sara Oval on Tuesday (February 21). Lizelle Lee and Laura Wolvaardt moved their feet well and swung their bats better, setting the tone for a positive batting performance that echoed down the order. However, van Niekerk couldn’t have accounted for that shift seeping into the Indian dressing room, as the Asian side pulled off a thrilling last-ball title chase with just one wicket left.
A massive six over deep midwicket from Harmanpreet Kaur off the penultimate ball, and a scampered two off the last helped India to their highest ever successful chase, getting to 245 for 9 in 50 overs.
No South African batter made more than 40, but they all played to a plan to put on a total of 244 in 49.4 overs. India had never chased more than 232 successfully, and they were without Mithali Raj, their regular captain and best batter of the tournament, out with an injured hamstring. Fifties from Deepti Sharma and Mona Meshram in a second-wicket stand worth 124 kept them in sight of the target, before India’s middle order made sure the tournament would have its closest match. In the face of strong death bowling from van Niekerk’s girls, Harmanpreet kept her cool, finishing unbeaten on a run-a ball 41.
India have been slow starters all tournament and that didn’t change despite the tall ask. Shabnim Ismail and Marizanne Kapp had them 22 for 1 after nine overs as India slipped back into a defensive mindset.
When it seemed like the match was slipping away, Meshram swung her bat and Deepti, the left-hander, dropping down to No.3, played an assured knock. They were guilty of not running the ones and not converting the twos early on, but the pace gradually picked up in a partnership that took them to 100 in the 25th over.
They both benefited from fielding lapses and overthrows. Meshram was granted a life when a shout for stumped was not given, the umpires not having the benefit of TV replays, and Deepti was dropped by van Niekerk off her own bowling on 46. Meshram brought up her third fifty of the tournament with a six over the long-off region, before Deepti raced ahead with a series of fours down the leg side.
The two had brought the equation to a run a ball, but when Deepti (71 off 89, with eight fours) was caught off Marcia Letsoalo at the deep square-leg boundary and Meshram (59 off 82, with seven fours and one six) chopped one from van Niekerk onto her stumps, the innings was in danger of losing momentum again, slipping from 144 for 1 to 148 for 3 in nine balls.
Harmanpreet and Veda Krishnamurthy (31 off 27), however, made the most of the batting Power Play from the 36th over, leaving India with 59 to get in the last ten. But when Kapp had Veda caught behind, the pressure told. Poor running caught out Shikha Pandey, while Devika Vaidya, Sushma Verma and Ekta Bisht fell to yorkers by Ayabonga Khaka and Ismail, and Kapp went for just six runs in her last two overs.
Harmanpreet however, singlehandedly finished things off.
Earlier, Bisht, the left-am spinner, shared the new ball with Pandey in a spin-heavy attack. But unlike the teams’ previous meeting, South Africa refused to get bogged down.
Lee and Wolvaardt were brutal on the offside in the first ten overs, driving expertly. They waited for the loose ball outside the offstump-line that granted them width and attacked. They put the fielders under pressure and had the bowlers hunting for the right lengths. Only one of the first five overs didn’t include a boundary; and the first nine had three maximums to Lee.
Lee fell for a 31-ball 37, nicking a good length delivery off Pandey to Verma, the wicketkeeper, but by then she had guided South Africa past 50 in 9.1 overs.
Mignon du Preez’s arrival signalled a period of top running between the wickets as she locked down one end.
Wolvaardt, chasing a boundary after a dry spell of 23 balls, smashed a full toss straight back for Poonam Yadav to take a juggling catch. Trisha Chetty was sent back by a direct hit at the non-striker’s end from Veda at cover, and Deepti got sharp turn to have Chloe Tryon bowled, but that did little to hurt the rate of scoring.
Van Niekerk was adept with the reverse sweeps during a 53-run fifth-wicket stand with du Preez. Sune Luus’s 29-ball 35, with two fours and as many sixes, in the company of the tail was more than a cameo, pushing South Africa to their highest total against India. Going into the break, they wouldn’t have guessed it would not have been enough.