Proteas floating on a high as World Cup semis draw near

On Monday the South African women did what precious few sides have managed to do so far in the Women’s World Cup in New Zealand when they successfully chased down a substantial total. For the record, they beat England by three wickets, winning in the last over to pass England’s 235 first-innings total with four balls to spare.

After Australia’s thrashing of the West Indies on Tuesday, the Aussies find themselves on top of the standings on eight points, the result of their four consecutive wins. Directly behind them as a result of wins against Bangladesh, Pakistan and England, are South Africa, their confidence growing like a green party balloon.

It was serious stuff against England but in the heat of the moment, they also had some fun, with Marizanne Kapp finding herself very much in the middle of fun central as she smiled, cursed, grimaced and joked with the umpires. She took five for 45 in her 10 overs, the last three the result of almost sinisterly effective slower balls, contributed to Amy Jones’s run out, and then thwacked 32 to almost — but not quite — get her side over the line.

She also hit the innings’ only six, a 66m heave over the ropes off the England enforcer, Katherine Brunt, to round off a day she should be telling strangers about for years to come. Commentator Nasser Hussain said of Kapp that “she didn’t deserve to be on the losing side” and that was very much the general view. Spot on, Nasser.

South Africa next play New Zealand on Thursday, the kind of fixture that might have once given them butterflies, while it would also be wise for Proteas fans to keep an eye on England’s progress following their bounce-back win over India. England are a spooked side: dropping catches, missing stumpings and generally playing as if they’re cursed. How sorry we feel for them.

South Africa, by contrast, are close to finding the sweet spot between competitiveness and enjoyment, with Kapp herself leading the way. 

TOPSHOT – South Africa’s Tumi Sekhukhune attempts a catch during 2022 Women’s Cricket World Cup match between England and South Africa at Bay Oval in Tauranga on March 14, 2022. (JOHN COWPLAND/AFP via Getty Images)

India, despite the England loss, are still useful, loitering just off the pace in the bunching pack behind the leaders. India rather than England, it is still safe to say, are the more likely of the two to be there at the business end.

While Kapp has been bossing the fun initiative, the South Africans are performing because everyone’s chipping in. Their intensity in the field was of a different order in the England game compared to the first two matches, and although the chase was grooved around Laura Wolfaardt’s classy 77, others kept the runs flowing.

Tazmin Brits, 23, slugged one pull through mid-wicket with such awesome power that she had the England fielders scratching their chins, and skipper Suné Luus weighed in with a priceless 36 through those awkward middle overs when an innings needs to be kept well-stocked with runs.

Wolfaardt, though, is emerging as one of the players of the tournament. Usually a sweet cover and square-driver, she has added the front-foot pull and slap to her repertoire. She played some lovely crisp shots against England and although there was work to do when she was fourth out with the total on 158, she had given the green machine a realistic stab at beating the defending champions.

What to make of New Zealand, South Africa’s next opponents? At time of writing they’re stranded in mid-table obscurity, with four points from four matches, having won two and lost two. The charitable view would suggest that they’re yet to find their mojo, but the slightly more critical take might suggest that expectation and lack of form are conspiring to render their campaign a scratchy affair.

They beat Bangladesh comprehensively and India well thanks to Amy Satterthwaite’s 75, but lost (narrowly) to the West Indies and (badly) to their Trans-Tasman rivals, the Aussies. There’s nothing wrong with that, because Australia look to be by far the most accomplished team in the tournament. 

Perhaps the result that should focus the South African mind is New Zealand’s result against India, a handy side. To dismiss them would be a bad idea.

Finally, a point or two on the touch-and-feel intangibles that the South Africans exude. Kapp is by no means alone in giving the impression that she believes her side has a place in the knock-out stages of this tournament. Luus’s calm as captain is vital when the pace of a game is speeding up, but she needs to be more assertive with her field placings and her general game management.

South Africa are on a high: you can feel it thousands of kilometres away. The only thing to fear is fear itself.

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