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Proteas hungry for first ICC trophy

When the Proteas men’s team travel to an International Cricket Council (ICC) tournament, they almost always shoulder great expectations. And with not nearly enough focus on the women’s side, there’s little of that pressure when they jetted of to Australia to compete at the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup.

The difference between the two teams’ approach is stark. For one, the Proteas women are not firing off the usual “one game at a time” lines to play it safe for the worst-case scenario. The women are talking a big game, especially after they defeated the English for the first time in eight attempts at a World Cup on Sunday.

Their woeful history against England at World Cups is probably indicative of their T20 World Cup record. In their previous six appearances at the tournament, they have managed just eight wins from 23 games played and reached the semifinal only once, back in 2014.

However, after their victory on Sunday, Proteas batswoman and former captain Mignon du Preez was quick to get through the questions related to the match before focusing on the bigger picture, which is bringing a maiden ICC trophy back to South Africa.

“We’ve always known how strong we are. We’ve got one of the best bowling attacks in the world, but in previous tournaments we haven’t really shown it, so to finally do that is brilliant,” du Preez said. “We’ve said it: this year, we want to go one step further than the semifinals and take the trophy home,” she added.

Before a potential semifinal, the Proteas still have to play Thailand, Pakistan and former champions West Indies in the group phase. Victories over the Asian sides could secure their passage into the knockouts before a ball has even been bowled against the Caribbean team.

Much like du Preez, Proteas bowler Ayabonga Khaka, who tore through the England batting lineup on Sunday, told the Mail & Guardian that she is very much focused on having the trophy in the seat next to her on the plane back to South Africa.

“The feeling in the camp is great right now, especially after a win against England. We obviously want to secure our qualification before the West Indies game, but we want to win every game, no matter how good or bad the team is supposed to be,” Khaka said.

“Expectations? We want to win the World Cup. That is the expectation from a team point of view and, on top of that, we want to win it with great team spirit,” she added.

There are a number of teams who will share the same sentiments as the Proteas. The Indian women have also failed to live up to their hype in previous tournaments, but made a huge statement on the opening day by defeating hosts and four-time winners Australia.

The West Indies, England and New Zealand — who defeated the Proteas 3-1 in a T20 series just two weeks ago — will all feel as if they have a chance at this World Cup, and it would be foolish to write off the Australian team after one loss.

However, Khaka believes that although it may be necessary at crucial moments for the Proteas to adapt their game against top opposition, the South Africans have a chance against every team if they stay true to their style of cricket.

“We’ve been preparing since we were in New Zealand before the tournament, and there, our T20 games did not go the way we wanted [them] to go, but we knew that we were working hard with what we wanted to do and against England, it came off,” she said.

“To be honest, there are some teams you look out for all the time, but I don’t know who is and who will be the biggest challenge. Just like us, every team is doing their best to win this tournament, and cricket is a funny game — anything can happen. So I really don’t know who is the biggest challenge, but all I do know is that if we do our thing, we can hang in there with any team.”

A huge part of these crunch games will be determined by Khaka and her fellow bowlers, who seem to be the strong point of this Proteas setup. Khaka, Shabnim Ismail, Marizanne Kapp and Dane van Niekerk were in the ICC’s top 10 ODI bowling rankings last year, and are currently all in the top 20 T20 bowling rankings. All four bowlers are capable of picking up wickets not only at regular intervals, but also at crucial moments.

This was evident against England as Khaka finished with figures of 3/25, which included the critical wicket of batswoman Natalie Sciver at the death as she looked to be guiding England to a significant score. Kapp and van Niekerk took two wickets each and Ismail picked up a single wicket.

“We just have to keep bowling well and keep finding the right lines and lengths on the different grounds we go to. When it comes to me, I just need to be consistent, keep working hard and keep taking wickets. That’s all I want to do and that’s all I have to do,” Khaka said.

And although the victory against England was crucial, it was just the first game of the tournament. As the Proteas approach crunch knockout games, the “choker” phrase might eat at them just as it has done to the men’s side, but Khaka insists they will not crumble under pressure.

“I think ‘chokers’ is a bad reputation to hold, but whether it be a final or semifinal, we need to think of it as just another game and play. We don’t need to be thinking that this is a knockout game and let the pressure get to us. We must just treat every game the same and give our all,” Khaka said.

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Eyaaz Matwadia
Eyaaz Matwadia
Eyaaz Matwadia is a member of the Mail & Guardian's online team.

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