CAPE TOWN - Women's cricket in South Africa wants to be taken seriously. For years they have shouted from rooftops, but the only way to convince the naysayers were through performances.
There have been fleeting glimpses of maturity, notably reaching the World T20 semi-final on the same day as the men in Dhaka back in 2014, but never have they come close to allaying their status as a poor relation.
On Sunday, with Leicester’s Grace Road providing the stage to a global audience, Dane van Niekerk’s team put in a performance of such high quality that it even trended on Twitter.
The facts are South Africa thrashed the West Indies by 10 wickets. The current World T20 champions were dismissed for 48 - the sixth lowest in ICC Women’s World Cup history - before the Proteas chased it down in just 6.2 overs. There were 262 balls left in South Africa’s innings - the third-largest win in terms of balls remaining in a completed women’s ODI - when 18-year-old Laura Wolvaardt struck the winning boundary.
It certainly was a busy day for the statisticians. World No 1 ODI bowler Marizanne Kapp returned career-best figures of 4/14 before the medium-pacer’s skipper Van Niekerk became the only bowler in cricket history to take four wickets in an international without conceding a run, with her leg-spinners with figures of 3.2-3-0-4
The carnage that ensued was though all set up by “the fastest bowler in the world” Shabnim Ismail, who accounted for Haley Mathews and Windies skipper Stafanie Taylor. It tore the heart out of the Windies batting and the Caribbean ladies simply had no band aid for a wound that bled even further when Kapp reduced the Windies to 16/5 in the eighth over.
“It was quite surreal. If I could script it I would not have written it like that. It was very close to perfect. We knew how destructive the West Indies can be, so we just told the bowlers to stick to their line and lengths,” Van Niekerk said.
“We had our plans coming into the game and it worked to the tee. I’m really proud of the bowlers, especially my two opening bowlers, they were world class. They are a quality side. Last thing we expected was this. We’ve said from the start. We want to concentrate on our game and play our best brand of cricket.”
Having closed out a tense run-chase against Pakistan in their World Cup opener last week and with the mid-week match against New Zealand abandoned due to rain, the Proteas are unbeaten after three matches in England.
There are bigger challenges that lie ahead with juggernauts like Australia, India and England waiting, but Sunday's demolition of the 2013 World Cup runners-up should have filled Van Niekerk’s team with the confidence to push through to the semi-finals.
“That’s what we are aiming for,” Kapp said. “Things are finally working for us. We saw after the close game against Pakistan, it turned our way, really looking forward to the rest of the tournament.”
If you didn’t know who Van Niekerk, Kapp, Ismail or Wolvaardt was before, you definitely know now. Remember their names, and some of their friends like Sune Luus, Lizelle Lee and Mignon du Preez among others, for you’re going to see much more them going forward.