Oh, so close for SA in last over drama

Even in their semi-final loss to pow­er­house Eng­land, Proteas should be truly proud of their never-say-die at­ti­tude

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - ZAAHIER ADAMS

THEY came, they fought, but ul­ti­mately they did not con­quer. South Africa will re­turn home with­out the ul­ti­mate prize af­ter their nail-bit­ing two-wicket de­feat to Eng­land in their ICC Women’s World Cup semi-final. That’s the cold re­al­ity. Eng­land were stronger, more ex­pe­ri­enced and ul­ti­mately calm in their ex­e­cu­tion.

It was a sen­sa­tional cli­max to a hugely en­ter­tain­ing game, with Eng­land tailen­der Anja Shrub­sole strik­ing the win­ning bound­ary with just two balls re­main­ing of Shab­nim Is­mail’s final over of the in­nings.

But as much as the plau­dits will de­servedly rain down on the hosts, there will be an out­pour­ing of sym­pa­thy for Dane van Niek­erk and her team.

South African sports teams are renowned for their coura­geous spirit and never-say-die at­ti­tude. Last night the Proteas women showed it spreads across codes and gen­der. It is in­grained in the DNA.

South Africa should never have got so close af­ter only post­ing 218/6, cour­tesy of half-cen­turies from Laura Wolf­vaardt (66) and Mignon du Preez (76 not out).

It cer­tainly seemed be­yond ex­pec­ta­tion when Eng­land were coast­ing to vic­tory at 139/2 with their two star bat­ters Sarah Tay­lor and cap­tain Heather Knight at the crease. Ayabonga Khaka had de­liv­ered the two early wick­ets in an im­pres­sive open­ing spell but needed sup­port.

Th­ese are the times, though, when a team’s senior play­ers need to step up and that’s when Van Niek­erk called on a bit of “Madiba Magic” to pro­duce a bril­liant di­rect hit to run out Player of the Match Tay­lor for 52.

Just there and then Van Niek­erk gave her team the be­lief to do the im­pos­si­ble.

The con­vic­tion grew even fur­ther when Eng­land lost Knight and Natalie Sciver for the ad­di­tion of only six runs in an event­ful cou­ple of overs.

Eng­land, though, are not one of the pow­er­houses of the women’s game for no rea­son. They bat re­ally deep, with play­ers such as Fran Wilson (30 off 38 balls) and Jenny Gunn (27 not out off 27 balls) com­ing in lower down the or­der.

South Africa con­tin­ued to toil away, how­ever, even when the game was slip­ping out of their grasp.

Mose­line Daniels re­moved Kather­ine Brunt with a beau­ti­ful in-swinger, be­fore Marizanne Kapp and Is­mail kept the dream alive with late strikes.

Is­mail’s wicket com­ing in the last over, with Eng­land re­quir­ing just two runs for vic­tory, off the final four balls.

The mood switched from ec­stasy to heart­break in mo­ments though when Shrub­sole broke the hearts of all of South Africa with the first ball she faced. The dream was crushed.

How­ever, when the dust has set­tled, which may take some time for Is­mail and Van Niek­erk es­pe­cially, they will re­alise how far South Africa have come so quickly.

They have de­fied most ob­servers and will now know any­thing is in­deed pos­si­ble. They will know they made some ele­men­tary mis­takes, like the poor run­ning be­tween the wick­ets dur­ing the mid­dle overs that led to run outs of Kapp and Van Niek­erk, while the catch­ing and gen­eral glove­work from wicket-keeper Trisha Chetty left a lot to be de­sired, but they will be a stronger team for it.

Back in 2000 Daleen Terblanche had to con­sole her team af­ter South Africa’s only other ap­pear­ance in a World Cup semi-final.

Back then they were sim­ply con­tent to have reached the final four.

Although fiercely proud of her team’s achieve­ments, Van Niek­erk will give no such speech. She will know her side pushed one of the very best team’s in women’s cricket to the very lim­its and next time – for in­deed there will not be a 17-year wait for another chance – that only a vic­tory will sat­isfy the de­sire of this coura­geous and tal­ented group of women.

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