OPINION: Women's cricket breaks new ground
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All roads lead to the Sydney Cricket Ground. A venue immersed in the traditions of the game is about to enter a new world tomorrow.
Four of the world’s finest women’s teams are ready to do battle in a high-tempo double-header. The prize: A place in the T20 World Cup final on Sunday at the MCG.
India are the front-runners having topped Group A, shocking hosts Australia in the tournament opener, and will face England in the first semi-final.
India have beef with the English after narrowly losing the 50-overs showpiece to their hosts in an epic final at Lord’s two years ago. The Indians, though, have learnt from that experience and boast a squad bubbling with match-winners such as Shafali Verma, Poonam Yadav and captain Harmanpreet Kaur.
Much like India’s men’s team under Virat Kohli, this Indian women’s team are fearless with Shafali and Harmanpreet leading from the front.
England, meanwhile, are a team in transition. They have a new coach and are missing the mercurial talents - both behind the stumps and with the bat - of the now retired Sarah Taylor. There’s still the experience of Heather Knight and Natalie Sciver to fall back on, but like we saw in their opening defeat to the Proteas it may just not be enough.
But that is the undercard on the day. All of Australia will be waiting for the second match when the home nation faces Dane van Niekerk’s Proteas. It is the match-up that’s on everybody’s lips.
This is not just another game for these teams. It’s a date with destiny for entirely contrasting reasons. For the Aussies, this tournament is a celebration of how the women’s game has evolved from “amateur hour” into a truly high-class professional business, with Meg Lanning’s team its flag bearers.
The month-long parade hasn’t gone entirely to plan though. India were almost the ultimate party-poopers when they defeated the Aussies in the group stages, pushing the home side to the brink of elimination. Having navigated through the remainder of the shark-infested waters with narrow victories over Sri Lanka and New Zealand, the worst was yet to come with the tournament’s poster-girl Elysse Perry ruled out this week.
There’s a lot of noise around the Australian camp and it will only get louder with the media scrutiny becoming almost unbearable as the anticipation increases ahead of D-Day.
And that brings me to the Proteas. There’s a reason I have only mentioned them right at the bottom of this column. Having been labelled everything from “underdogs” to “dark horses” in the build-up, the Proteas have embraced their status and been perfectly comfortable with staying below the radar.
It’s a sign of maturity. Previously they have concerned themselves with the opposition and the superstar names in their line-ups. No longer! They now focus on themselves and their preparation and processes. This has only been achieved through experience gained over the years and solid leadership.
The pressure of hoping to become the first senior Proteas team to feature in an ICC World Cup final could be immense. But Van Niekerk’s side view it as an opportunity. Their once-in-a-lifetime chance to be trailblazers. The prospect of forging a path for the next generation of women cricketers in South Africa is their source of motivation.