The Proteas Women almost pulled off the unthinkable in a dramatic run chase, which saw England win with two balls to spare to reach the final.
At 139-2, with England needing just 80 runs from 18 overs, victory was all but a formality for the hosts. But Dane van Niekerk’s pinpoint run-out almost sparked the catalyst for the most dramatic of turnarounds. Three wickets fell in two overs, and suddenly the Proteas started to dream of a first-ever World Cup final.
That dream came crashing down in the final over at Bristol however, as Anya Shrubsole held her nerve to see off the two runs required off three balls with a boundary, and ensure their first final since they won it in 2009.
It’s desperately disappointing for South Africa, but they can hold their heads high in what has been an excellent tournament. The only matches they lost were against the top two sides in the world, and they beat two sides ranked above them, along with the two sides ranked below them.
Van Niekerk won the toss and chose to bat first, knowing that they lost this fixture at the exact same ground batting second. It was an innings in which they felt they probably could have scored 20 or 30 more runs, but they still would have been confident of defending their 218-6, as they made a name for themselves having the strongest bowling attack in the world in this tournament.
Laura Wolvaardt set the platform with a well-measured 66, building up a vital 77-run stand with Mignon du Preez, who was there at the end, unbeaten on 76 off 95 balls.
Contributions from Dane van Niekerk (27) and Sune Luus at the end (21) got the side over 200, but the English did well to peg them back at crucial stages with run-outs of Marizanne Kapp (1) and Dane van Niekerk, while the dangerous Chloe Tryon was removed for only one, just as they were looking to accelerate.
The response was fairly breezy from the English, who were helped along by some terrible errors in the field. Trisha Chetty, who’s taken more wicketkeeping dismissals than anyone in women’s cricket, was not herself. She dropped two sharp chances to her right and let a couple of deliveries slip past her, as the extras tally was among the top-scorers for a while.
Ayabonga Khaka, on her 25th birthday, enjoyed a stellar performance, removing both openers, and finishing her allowed overs early in the innings to bag 2-28.
With skipper Heather Knight and Sarah Taylor in cruise control and building up a 78-run stand, the heads were dropping in the field as the match was slipping away quickly from the South Africans. But then came the direct hit from Van Niekerk which changed everything. She removed Taylor for 54, and then Sune Luus took two wickets in the next over to bring them right back into it.
Luus had Wolvaardt to thank for the first one, who took an amazing grab at square leg to see off Knight for 30, and then Luus bowled Natalie Sciver around the legs for three.
The required run rate crept above six as South Africa suddenly became the favourites, but Jenny Gunn proved the thorn in the Proteas’ side. Gunn hit three boundaries for her run-a-ball 27 to keep England ahead.
Shabnim Ismail was tasked with bowling the last over, with England needing three off the over. She dropped a catch that was smacked straight at her at a comfortable height from Gunn, but two balls later she bowled Laura Marsh to leave England needing three off two. But then came the crushing blow from Shrubsole, as Ismail got it horribly wrong, bowling short and wide to allow Shrubsole to pierce the off-side.
A huge sigh of relief for England, but tears all round for the Proteas, who couldn’t in their wildest dreams have expected to get as close as they did 32 overs into England’s innings.
Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images