Proteas captain Dané van Niekerk produced a brilliant all-round performance on Saturday to light up the ICC Women’s World Cup and give her team an excellent chance of progressing to the semi-finals.
Van Niekerk led from the front with bat and ball to overpower the more-fancied India team by 115 runs in Leicester on Saturday.
After opener Lizelle Lee set the tone upfront with a blistering 92 off just 65 balls (10x4, 7x6), Van Niekerk ensured the good work did not go to waste with a solid 57 off 66 balls (7x4, 1x6) that pushed South Africa to a solid 273/9.
“We have good days and bad days, but I am just glad to have been able to perform for the team. I just thought of taking it deep. I knew I could take it away at the back-end,” Van Niekerk said.
“Struggled a bit, but it came off in the end. We said we wanted all three facets of the game firing. It wasn’t as clinical as I hoped it would have been. (But) We came here for two points and we got it, and I’m really proud of the girls.”
The skipper was certainly highly motivated for this all-important clash and was intent to contribute with the ball too.
Realising that the contest was potentially on the line when her imposing counterpart Mithali Raj came to the crease, Van Niekerk immediately came into the attack herself.
The South African captain emerged victorious in the battle royale when she managed to sneak a delivery through Raj’s defence to dismiss the Indian captain for her first golden duck of her illustrious career.
“In my opinion, if you get the best batter in the world out, it’s better than scoring a hundred. She’s a world-class player, and to get her wicket was probably the highlight of my career,” Van Niekerk said of Raj’s dismissal.
Proteas fast bowler Dale Steyn often likes to say that “If you can cut off the head of the snake, the rest of the body tends to fall”, and that’s exactly what happened to the Indians as their batting unit capitulated.
Although veteran Jhulan Goswami (43 not out off 79 balls) batted valiantly after top-order batter Deepti Sharma struck a composed 60 at No 3, it was truly South Africa’s day, with Van Niekerk finishing with 4/22 to dismiss India for 158.
Van Niekerk, though, would be the first to acknowledge that it was a superb all-round bowling performance from their entire unit.
Marizanne Kapp produced the early breakthrough when the opening bowler removed Smriti Mandhana with her second delivery of the innings.
Medium-pacer Ayabonga Khaka also chipped in with 2/33 to maintain the pressure before leg-spinner Suné Luus (1/27) and Shabnim Ismail (1/18) closed out the innings.
The bowlers could, though, only produce their heroics after Lee had set the platform.
The imposing right-hander has enjoyed a wonderful World Cup thus far, with her 92 on Sunday adding to her contributions of 60 against Pakistan, 29 not out against the West Indies and 72 against England for an aggregate of 253 runs at the hugely impressive average of 84.33.
“First of all, this goes to Lizelle Lee, I think she deserves it more than I do,” Van Niekerk said of her Player of the Match award. “She stuck to her guns and she found her groove and her rhythm, and it came off today. We back that all the way.”
South Africa will take great confidence from this victory, and are now set up for a final push for a place in the playoffs.
The Proteas are currently in fourth position, but still have to face world champions Australia and Sri Lanka in their remaining two group matches.