CAPE TOWN – THE Proteas women’s team have played some big matches in their history. A World T20 semi-final in the steaming metropolis of Dhaka a few years back and there have also been a couple of World Cup semi-finals in India (2000) and Bristol (2017).
With women’s cricket being offered limited opportunities to be showcased to a mass South African television audience, the matches were an opportunity to spread the gospel of the women’s game in South Africa. Not to say the results were inconsequential, but the defeats were forgiven in the name of progression.
On Friday in Canterbury, the stakes are appreciably different though in the Proteas’ most significant match since last year’s World Cup. Dané van Niekerk's team have a chance to create history by becoming the first South African women’s team to win an ODI series in England.
An opportunity was squandered in Brighton a couple of days ago through an indifferent bowling display. Van Niekerk attributed it to complacency, saying “we just expected things to happen”. Against a team that possesses the quality and experience like the reigning world champions do, it is close to committing suicide.
Van Niekerk and her team pride themselves on being trailblazers of the sport in South Africa. They appreciate the groundwork done by the pioneers such as Cri-Zelda Britz, Daleen Terblanche and Shandre Fritz, but are fully aware of their duty to propel the sport into a new professional era.
Cricket South Africa have pledged their support behind the team through player contracts and technical expertise, and acting CSA chief executive Thabang Moroe has even mooted the idea of equal pay for the Proteas men’s and women’s teams.
The only way these ideals are going to be achieved depends primarily on the success of Van Niekerk’s team on the field though, and that begins right here and now in Kent.
The Proteas certainly have the arsenal to tear up the record books. The bowling unit, particularly the pace trio of Shabnim Ismail, Marizanne Kapp and Ayabonga Khaka, are among the most feared in the world game. They are also experienced enough to have learn from their Brighton faults, and will be eager to come back and prove their class.
The leg-spin – such a potent weapon at last year’s World Cup in similar conditions – of Van Niekerk and Sune Luus has been under-utilised during the series thus far and it may now just be the right time to unleash their wizardary.
Equally, South Africa’s batting is vastly improved. Led by the powerful Lizelle Lee upfront and the new dynamism of Van Niekerk and Chloe Tryon in the middle-order,South Africa look a much more balanced outfit. Big matches are for big players too, and Laura Wolfvaardt can certainly be classed as the latter. After a quiet series thus far, the teenager from Parklands may just explode into action at Canterbury.
The only challenge that remains is whether this group of players can handle the pressure that comes with a “must-win” match, knowing the greater rewards at stake.
“I think we are. Looking back a few years ago, you wouldn’t see the team bat the way they are now. I have never seen so much confidence. We are here to play. We have nothing to lose. We have a special bunch of girls. We want to win the series. We must just go out there and play,” said all-rounder Tyron.
“I feel this team is playing fearless cricket. It is just growth of the women’s cricket in the country, the girls are growing. You can see the hard work everyone being put in behind the scenes. It would mean so much. Something we have been working towards. We are going to be ruthless.”
The match starts at 1:45pm and will televised live on SuperSport.