CAPE TOWN - Although the result was inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, with both teams already having qualified for the ICC Women’s World Cup semi-finals, South Africa will still look back at Saturday’s 59-run defeat to Australia as a missed opportunity.
The Proteas have yet to beat the Aussies in an ODI in 15 attempts, and at various stages in this final group match, it was arguably one of their best opportunities here at Taunton.
The Australians were bowled out for 269, with the Proteas Women coming up short as they were dismissed for 210.
Even though the defending World Cup champions rested their star batsman and captain Meg Lanning, the Australians were still able to put out a formidable team packed with superstars of the women’s game.
There’s none bigger that Ellyse Perry and it was the all-rounder that proved the difference between the two sides. After Australia’s openers Beth Mooney (53) and Nicole Bolton (79) had laid a solid platform of 114 for the first wicket, Perry continued the charge with a 55 off just 57 balls.
South Africa’s bowlers should, though, take lots of the heart from the way they fought back through the middle period of the Australian innings.
Leg-spinner Suné Luus, who although a touch on the expensive side due to the odd full toss delivered, was the chief destroyer as SA’s Women’s Cricketer of the Year claimed 5/67 to restrict the Aussies to 269 all out in 48.3 overs.
There were also two wickets for captain Dané van Niekerk, who moved to 15 wickets in the competition.
It was a wonderful fight back and created a real sense of optimism in the Proteas dressing room at the lunch break.
“I was glad the way the way we pulled it back. At one stage, it looked like they would get 300-plus. I thought 270-odd was gettable,” said Van Niekerk.
This enthusiasm grew even further after teenage opening batter Laura Wolvaardt took the attack to the six-times world champions.
Playing with the fearlessness of youth and without the baggage of her more senior teammates, Wolvaardt drove and cut elegantly during the opening powerplay.
Even the loss of her powerful opening partner Lizelle Lee in the sixth over, to an ill-judged swipe across the line, could not stem the momentum, with Trisha Chetty arriving at the crease with plenty of intent.
The Proteas Women moved confidently along, with Wolvaardt registering her third half-century of the competition off just 61 balls.
Chetty also looked in good touch, but could not take full advantage of a missed chance earlier in her innings, and departed for 37 when Perry completed a run out.
However, the Proteas were still well-placed at 132/2 with 20 overs remaining, but their lack of composure against higher-ranked opponents was exposed.
A poor shot by the experienced Mignon du Preez set in the panic, with South Africa losing their next five wickets for just 52 runs.
Du Preez would be undoubtedly livid with herself for hitting a waist-high full straight down the throat of Ashleigh Gardner in the deep.
South Africa’s chance filtered further away when Wolvaardt followed Du Preez to the change room when she was caught for a well-played 71.
Realising the Proteas were ripe for the kill, Perry (2/47) returned to the attack and duly picked up two wickets that closed out the game for her team.
The outing at Taunton certainly reminded the South Africans of the level, especially in the field, they need to be at if they are to make history in in next Tuesday’s semi-final against another high-quality outfit such as England in Bristol.
“We’re very happy (to reach the semi-finals),” Van Niekerk said. “Obviously not the performance we wanted to put in, but rather today than the next game.
“I know the girls will bounce back. They showed it in the tournament. I am pleased about the way we have been going about our work.”