Proteas skipper Dane van Niekerk talks to her teammates. Photo: Frikkie Kapp/BackpagePix

‘He who climbs Mount Fuji once is a wise man. He who climbs it twice is a fool.’ This is, of course, an old Japanese proverb relating to the ascent of the iconic 3 776 metre active volcano.

But that is virtually the challenge that awaits the Proteas women's squad this week. The South Africans earned the right to celebrate qualification for the ICC Women’s World Cup semi-final on Wednesday.

It was the first time the team has achieved this feat since 2000. They would have awoken with the sobering prospect that undoubtedly the biggest seven days of their cricket careers awaits them.

Even before next week’s semi-final can be focused upon, South Africa face up to defending champions Australia in their final round-robin match at Taunton.

Although the result does not have any bearing for either team in regards to progressing in the tournament, there is a far greater context and meaning to the contest.

South Africa have not defeated Australia in an ODI in 14 attempts, with the best-ever result for the Proteas being a tied-fixture. Victory would thus undoubtedly raise the self-belief within the squad to even greater heights.

The damning statistic, though, is not simply a poor reflection on South Africa but instead highlights the fact that the Aussies are undoubtedly the torch bearers of the standards that women cricketers around the world aspire to.

Meg Lanning’s side are hunting down a record seventh World Cup title in England. Although Lanning has been suffering from a shoulder injury throughout the tournament that is hampering her progress, she is still second on the overall batting charts with 328 runs - only two runs behind England’s Tammy Beaumont - at the vastly superior average of 109.33. 

The Australian captain is not the only danger though. Dynamic all-rounder Ellyse Perry is in a similar rich vein of form with 311 runs at an average of 103.66.

It is no consolation to South Africa that Perry has been even more effective against the Proteas, smashing 327 ODI runs across her five innings against South Africa at an at average of 163.5.

“I think a round of applause needs to go our ladies first. We came here, nobody expected anything from us, but we knew the qualities we had. We feel, where we are at right now, we're starting to play good cricket. The girls are gelling nicely,” Proteas coach Hilton Kgosimang Moreeng said.

“Our first goal coming to England was to reach the knockout phase, which we have done, and they deserve every accolade that comes their way. “But we realise that if we want to be the best in the world, you need to start winning these games. They are the defending champions. They come with everything they have.”

Instead of being daunted by the challenge that awaits his team and management staff, Moreeng is actually excited by the timing of the contest. He believes the match will serve up an ideal opportunity for the Proteas to fine-tune a few skills against quality opposition ahead of the semi-finals stage.

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Cape Times