South Africa’s women cricketers will go where none of their male counterparts have gone when they contest their very first World Cup final at Newlands in Cape Town on Sunday.
The hosts reached the final of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup with a thrilling six-run win over England but now they will be up against Australia, a team of proven World Cup winners, who have won five of the previous six T20 finals.
The Aussies also had a tight semi-final when they edged past India by just five runs but they are loaded with experience which their captain Meg Lanning believes will help them in the pressure moments.
“Having been in pressure situations before helps a lot,” said Lanning on Saturday.
“We’re not going to be the team that everyone’s cheering for.
“We’re expecting South Africa to come out to play to their full strength and they’re riding a wave of emotion as well.
“I expect an incredible atmosphere and an incredible game at an amazing venue. It’s a World Cup final and there’s nowhere to hide.”
Lanning said there would be pressure on both teams.
“It comes down to holding your nerve under pressure,” she said.
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Following South Africa’s dramatic upset of England in Friday’s semi-final, there were queues outside the ground on Saturday as new-found followers of the women’s game sought to buy tickets.
That win was accompanied by scenes of unbridled joy as 7500 spectators inside the ground cheered them on.
Sunday’s crowd is expected to be considerably bigger with the game marking a watershed moment at an iconic venue that hosted its first men’s Test match in 1889.
No South African team, men or women, had previously gone beyond the semi-finals of either a 50-overs or T20 World Cup.
“We’ve always known we had the ability to get to a final, I think it was just to get through that semi-final,” said South African captain Sune Luus.
‘The Best v The Best’
While Australia stormed through the group stages before being pushed all the way by India in the semi-finals, South Africa lost two of their first three games.
They looked anything but championship contenders when they lost the tournament opening match against Sri Lanka and they went down by six wickets in a group match against Australia in Gqeberha.
“We were 20, 30, 40 runs short in that game,” said Luus.
“We know they (Australia) have a very strong batting line-up and they bat extremely deep.
“Whether we bat first or second we know we have to put up a good fight. We know they’re going to keep fighting. We saw that in their semi-final against India.”
Luus said South Africa had a strong pace bowling attack and she expected an “even contest” between her bowlers and the Australia batters.
“It’s going to be the best in the world against the best in the world.”
Luus, 27, said the discussion before the semi-final had been on how to handle the big occasion.
“Everybody was hyped up and excited but we said before the game that the team that is the calmest is going to get over the finish line. I think tomorrow is going to be no different.”
Tazmin Brits, 32, who until the retirement of big-hitting Lizelle Lee last year was not an automatic choice for the team, made herself a national heroine by hitting top score of 68 and holding four catches in a remarkable display of big-match temperament.
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She found herself on the front and back pages of Saturday’s newspapers.
“She’s got a lot of self-belief. It’s been years of hard work that finally came together,” said coach Hilton Moreeng.
South Africa: Sune Luus (captain), Laura Wolvaardt, Tazmin Brits, Marizanne Kapp, Chloe Tryon, Anneke Bosch, Nadine de Klerk, Sinalo Jafta (wkt), Shabnim Ismail, Ayabonga Khaka, Nonkululeko Mlaba
Australia: Meg Lanning (captain), Alyssa Healy (wkt), Beth Mooney, Ash Gardner, Ellyse Perry, Tahlia McGrath, Grace Harris, Georgia Wareham, Jess Jonassen, Megan Schutt, Darcie Brown