Proteas are in the World Cup semis but tough tests await

South Africa’s women cricketers are through to the semi-finals of the World Cup in New Zealand by virtue of the point they gained from their rain-abandoned game against the West Indies in Wellington earlier today. In second place on the table, they have nine points from six games, three points behind table-topping Australia.

With nine points, it is statistically impossible for more than three teams to pass them on the log, which means they go into their final round-robin game of the campaign – against India in Christchurch on Sunday – with the cushion of knowing that they can lose and still qualify.

Naturally, good teams don’t think like this, but South Africa have been experiencing some mid-tournament angst of late, having been steamrollered by Australiaso they can give it their best shot against the hot-cold Indians without having to worry unduly about the result.

Against the Wizards of Oz South Africa posted a handy 271 for five batting first (Laura Wolvaardt 90, Suné Luus 52) but were blown away by the machine that is Australia’s Meg Lanning in the chase. She scored 135 not out in 130 balls and, truth be told, Australia’s five-wicket victory was gallingly comfortable, coming with 28 balls to spare.

After posting their highest total of the tournament against Australia, the South Africans would have gone into the break with cautious optimism. As the Aussie innings progressed, however, such optimism bled away.

You could almost see their self-belief fade before your eyes as catches were put down – by Trisha Chetty, Lara Goodall and Lizelle Lee, to name the three most obvious ones – and Lanning carved them to every corner of the ground.

This Australian side is a juggernaut, but the South Africans will argue they had them in a spot of bother at 45 for two when Rachael Haynes (17) was brilliantly caught in the deep by Mignon du Preez off Chloe Tryon.

It was a false dawn. Lanning hit her straps and poor Tumi Sekhukhune, the fifth bowler, went for 68 runs in her seven. She ran Beth Mooney (21) out with a direct throw from mid-off, but with Masabata Klaas still out of the side, the fifth bowler poser is proving tricky.

It hopefully won’t be too much of an issue come Sunday against a powerful Indian batting line-up that scored 277 against Australia and 317 against the West Indies, with Luus saying after the West Indies game that she thought Klaas “should be okay” to play against India.

When matters were finally abandoned in Wellington earlier today, South Africa had extricated themselves from a spot of bother. At one stage against the Windies they had ploughed to 22 for four (Wolvaardt a rare failure and precious few from Lee) in an abbreviated 26-over game before self-correcting to end on 61 for four thanks to Du Preez’s feisty 38 in 31 balls.

South Africas Mignon du Preez (L) plays a shot watched by the Australia’s wicketkeeper Alyssa Healy during the Women’s Cricket World Cup match between Australia and South Africa at the Basin Reserve in Wellington on March 22, 2022. (Photo by Marty MELVILLE / AFP) (Photo by MARTY MELVILLE/AFP via Getty Images)

Return to form

Phlegmatic campaigners that they are, the South Africans won’t read too much into the point gained in Wellington. Neither will they get into too much hand-wringing about the ins and outs of the match situation. The fact of the matter is that they started off this competition with unconvincing wins against Bangladesh and Pakistanbefore priceless – but narrow – wins batting second against champions England and hosts New Zealand.

New Zealand have had a disappointing tournament and won’t make the semis, with England’s likely victory against Pakistan in their last group game meaning that they will squeak into the semi-finals at possibly the West Indies’ expense.

Interviewed after the Windies game, South African skipper Luus said her side were expecting to play India or England in their semi-final on either Wednesday or Thursday next week.

“We’re pretty pumped to be getting into that final – it’s been a dream of ours for so long. A win against India on Sunday would help with our momentum but, of course, we need to get past that semi first.”

South Africa’s best chance of progressing to that final lies not in Wolvaardt’s classicism or Marizanne Kapp’s apparently boundless capacity for a scrap. Rather, it lies in the fact that this team is happy.

It’s a curious thing to say – to fixate on happiness, an intangible at the best of times – but happiness makes for resilience, which is priceless at this stage of a tournament. Not only is the green machine resilient, but the South Africans have found a way to win, particularly in close matches against England and New Zealand. Whether by inspiration, perspiration, hook or crook, the South Africans have burgled wins from the most unlikely places. This will hold them in good stead when the time comes.

But they need to hold their catches. If they don’t, they’ll lose their semi-final, no matter who they play. It’s that simple.