CAPE TOWN - If there was one over in this ICC Women’s World Cup contest that accurately reflected the gulf between these two teams it was the 40th over of the English innings.
South Africa’s captain Dane van Niekerk had called on her chief strike weapon Shabnim Ismail to come back and restrict the tournament hosts’ charge during the death overs. At the other end was England’s star batter Sarah Taylor, who admittedly was in fine form having just reached her sixth ODI century, waiting for the challenge.
Five consecutive sweetly-timed boundaries later from Taylor and South Africawere blown out of the park. It was sublime batting from the England wicket-keeper, who virtually hand-picked her areas.
To South Africa’s credit, they produced a spirited run-chase but England’s 373/5 was always going to be a bridge too far for the batters.
The match was lost in the field, where the Proteas’ much-hyped bowling attack simply failed to adjust to the conditions. Unlike the previous match at Leicester when the pace bowlers blew away the West Indies under cloudy skies on a green-tinged pitch, the conditions at the County Ground in Bristolwere vastly different.
It was near-perfect day with the sun drenching down on a hard surface tailor-made for stroke players such as Taylor (147 off 104 balls, 24x4) and Tammy Beaumont (148 off 145 balls, 22x4, 1x6). The English pair added a record 275 for the second wicket that ultimately proved to be a match-winning contribution.
In the same way Taylor and Beaumont utilised a 360-degree approach to batting, hauling out the reverse-sweep and switch hit to audacious effect, so the conditions called on the South African bowlers to produce a “Plan B”.
Often the seamers simply tried to hit the deck back of a length or attempted to use conventional away-swing when the variations such as cross-seam deliveries or cutters were required to stem the run flow.
It will certainly be a learning experience for Proteas skipper Dane van Niekerk, especially also in regards to fielding placing when two batters are set, and her bowling unit.
"All credit to Tammy and Sarah. They batted us out of the game. Hindsight is always not the best thing to have. I would probably have bowled myself and Sune (Loos) more, but credit to the English batters, we took too long to adapt to these conditions. We really stuck to our plans and should have adapted quicker. We thought 280-300 would be a good score. We got past 300, which was great, but 370 was too big a score," Van Niekerk said after the 68-run defeat.
Equally, the batters would have learnt that they are capable of chasing down scores in excess of 300 against the higher-ranked teams. South Africa have two quality openers in Lizelle Lee (72 off 77 balls, 7x4, 2x6) and Laura Wolvaardt (67 off 103 balls, 9x4). The pair put on 128 for the first wicket on Wednesday – their second century stand of the World Cup in addition to their unbroken 50-run stand against the Windies – and really have the potential to get South Africa off to solid starts on a regular basis.
The only criticism of the duo was that their partnership was probably too slow yesterday, largely due to seeking boundaries when the regular rotation of the strike was required between the big shots.
South Africa also have some classy players in the middle and lower-order with the potential to do some real damage. Former captain Mignon du Preez (43 off 39 balls, 4x4) and Chloe Tyron (54 off 26 balls, 5x4, 4x6) provided a glimmer of hope with a breezy 75-run partnership with Tyron in particular taking the attack to the English.
The KwaZulu-Natal all-rounder is one of the cleanest hitters of a cricket ball in the women’s game and could benefit with a possible promotion up the order instead of walking to the crease when the run-rate has already escalated to 15 runs per over.
South Africa are still well-placed to reach the semi-finals, but the competition only gets tougher from here with defending champions Australia and India lurking around the corner.
England: 373/5 (Beaumont 148, Taylor 147, Kapp 3/77)
South Africa: 305/9 (Lee 72, Wolvaardt 67, Tyron 54, Hazell 3/70)
England win by 68 runs