Women’s cricket gives us a whole new team to cheer for

CityPress - - Sport - Simnikiwe Xabanisa sports@city­press.co.za Follow me on Twit­ter @Simx­a­ban­isa

It was 1992 all over again: dis­con­so­late play­ers strewn all over the Bris­tol County Ground turf; England, bloody England, had done us in again in a close-run World Cup semi­fi­nal; and, if Twit­ter is to be be­lieved, glo­ri­ous de­feat united South African cricket fans once again.

For years, most of us didn’t have a clue who the South African women’s crick­eters were, ex­cept on the few oc­ca­sions when they were wheeled out at the an­nual awards. But on Tues­day, their sheer blood­y­mind­ed­ness el­bowed the come­back Proteas off the na­tional cricket con­scious­ness.

Af­ter post­ing a scarcely de­fend­able 218/6, the Proteas’ women’s side took the game deep, forc­ing England to earn the right to host the fi­nal with a nail-bit­ing twow­icket vic­tory with just two balls re­main­ing in the game.

But, de­spite be­com­ing yet an­other Proteas team to exit a World Cup in a knock­out game, the faint whiff of hav­ing choked was nowhere near for a team whose love for a good old-fash­ioned scrap is such that it was clear no­body had told them that England were sup­posed to be their bet­ters.

It’s an at­ti­tude that had pre­vailed through­out the tour­na­ment: they won four of their seven pool games, in­clud­ing against pow­er­house In­dia, lost twice and had one game washed out.

And, with the tour­na­ment jostling for view­ing space along­side Wim­ble­don, Su­per Rugby and the Tour de France, it wasn’t long be­fore we not only knew who the Proteas play­ers were – sud­denly we were on a first-name ba­sis with them all.

Luus was Suné; Kapp was Marizanne; Chetty was Tr­isha; and it was Dané, not Dane van Niek­erk. Then we em­braced their traits and char­ac­ter. Ayabonga (Khaka) was nag­gingly ac­cu­rate, Shab­nim (Is­mail) a com­bustible com­peti­tor and cap­tain Van Niek­erk was lippy and forthright.

Then we started wrap­ping our heads around the ex­trav­a­gant gifts we got from bats­man Laura Wolvaardt.

The 18-year-old – al­ready the youngest South African, man or woman, to score an in­ter­na­tional cen­tury – rat­tled off 324 runs in the tour­na­ment at an av­er­age of 64.8 to clear the decks for her pre­lim ex­ams at school in a ca­reer that has al­ready seen her score two 100s and seven cen­turies at 48.05.

There may have been a dis­tinct lack of heat in the speed gun when they let one loose, and the strike rates may have been a touch un­der­whelm­ing for the most part, but one couldn’t help but be drawn in by how white-hot the women’s side was in the heat of the bat­tle.

But the ques­tion re­mains, how did a team we were quite happy to ig­nore while we pur­sued other in­ter­ests – such as the Proteas’ coach­ing job, their chok­ing and whether our teams were trans­formed – so far ex­ceed ex­pec­ta­tions?

Coach Hil­ton Moreeng this week said the per­for­mances were three years in the mak­ing, af­ter the pow­ers that be at Cricket SA (CSA) de­cided they would play a lot more cricket than they had be­fore to up­skill them.

A CSA in­sider said the women’s team had prob­a­bly played more cricket in the past three years than they had in the five years be­fore that, their re­sults at the World Cup prov­ing be­yond a shadow of doubt that the best class­room in sport is on the field.

Moreeng said a lot of work had been done to fix their weak link – bat­ting – that in­cluded in­tense ses­sions in power-hit­ting.

Van Niek­erk gave Moreeng credit for hav­ing in­stilled the new cul­ture and giv­ing his charges free­dom of ex­pres­sion, stop­ping just short of sug­gest­ing the en­vi­ron­ment be­fore the coach ar­rived had been sti­fling.

Ei­ther way, CSA de­serves credit for giv­ing us yet an­other team we can sup­port. Here’s hop­ing they im­prove on this and go all the way in four years’ time and not keep us wait­ing like the 1992 lot.

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