South Africa vs England: Can South Africa break their semi-finals hoodoo?

South Africa (L) England (R) © Getty Images

Every year July 18 is celebrated as Nelson Mandela Day. A day when the whole world remembers the firebrand South African leader who devoted his entire life to the fight against apartheid. 

And hence on July 18, 2017, when the South African team took the field against the hosts England in the World Cup semi-final, they had that extra motivation to give it all.

For people who have not been to South Africa, it’s hard for them to understand the anguish the people of colour in the country have been through over the years. South Africa as a nation has agitated really hard for a level field and a lot has gone into where they are now.

The Proteas, who had stepped on the field in Bristol to earn a place in the summit clash were denied the same, as the world saw them falter on the bigger stage yet again. The high octane clash went down to the wire with England needing three off six deliveries.

The odds were against the South African spearhead Shabnim Ismail, who was standing at the top of her mark about to deliver the last over. But she was not willing to give in. She ran like a wind, gave it her all, and brought it down to two off three deliveries. But the moment Anya Shrubsole chopped it away to the left of cover point for a boundary Ismail was on the wicket on her haunches in agonizing pain.

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Four years later, Ismail is still there in the South Africa squad but not a lot has changed. She is still spearheading the attack and is still quick enough to give any batter a run for her money on a given day. Perhaps the only change that is clearly noticeable is that her want to grab the elusive silverware has increased by miles and the same is true for the rest of the South Africa side.

What’s at stake

The only place up for grabs in the summit clash on April 3. But then there are other things on the line too. And it is different for both sides. 

For South Africa, the challenge to prove to everyone out there that they are just more than a semi-final side is gaping at them yet again. And to do justice to the hopes of their millions of fans back home who have been waiting for a World Cup trophy for ages.

For the defending champions, the challenge is to display that they are still as good enough as they were during their dream run in the 2017 edition and to prove that the losses they faced during the Group stage were mere oddities.

The 2017 World Cup semi-final in Bristol saw England bag a berth in the final. And although South Africa lost, they also went back home with plenty. But with what exactly? Despair, agony, suffering and so much more. 

“If you were in our changing room right now, you would probably start crying as well. It’s tough. Because of what we set out to do and the belief we had, especially losing in a game so close, it hurts even more. We were kind of down and out, dead and buried there halfway through; the character the team showed, it hurts, even more, the way we fought back,” were the words of then, South Africa, skipper Dane van Niekerk in her post-match press conference after the semi-final loss.

South Africa were hurting and it was pretty evident by their body language. They were sobbing, and grieving inconsolably. 

But as per their skipper Sune Luus the team has come out of that agonizing loss and looks all geared up for the game on Thursday. 

“So that’s definitely in the past and we look to tomorrow as a whole new game and a whole new world cup. So we just take it as it going to come,” said Luus in the pre-match press conference.

Luus’ side looks fairly well-balanced and are in much better shape than what they were during the 2017 campaign. Laura Wolvaardt has been their most prolific batter in the tournament. She is the highest run-getter in the competition so far and a lot will ride on how she fares in Thursday’s clash. However, she will have her task cut out for sure as she will be up against a varied English bowling attack. 

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Leading into the tournament there were question marks on Luus – the batter. Not regarding her potential though rather in regards to her consistency. But the way she has delivered despite the added responsibility of captaincy has certainly helped the Proteas massively. She has scored 249 runs in seven games, including three half-centuries, and has tried really hard to fill in for van Niekerk.

A lot has been spoken about how Marizanne Kapp has played her role in South Africa’s success thus far, and rightly so. She is averaging 45.50 with the bat and has claimed ten dismissals in seven games. In a tournament where many star players haven’t managed to deliver, Kapp has been phenomenal in all the three disciplines. 

On the other hand, Heather Knight’s side had a dreadful start to their campaign. With three defeats on the trot, their drive was in dire straits and the side needed to rejig their strategy and they did just that.

Whether it was dropping Lauren Winfield-Hill after she failed to churn out runs upfront and giving Danielle Wyatt a run at the top or providing Charlie Dean opportunities in the tournament, England have been pretty brave with their calls and hence have got positive results.

The English batting will majorly revolve around their two focal points in Knight and Natalie Sciver and England will desperately wish for them to have a really good game.

England’s bowling attack has a lot of variations and that causes a lot of headaches to opposition batters.

While Katherine Brunt is someone who predominantly takes the ball away from the right-handers, Anya Shrubsole brings it back into them. Heading into the ongoing World Cup Sophie Ecclestone was the one largely shouldering the English spin attack. 

But seven games into the tournament the scenario has changed a lot as Dean has stepped up and delivered big time. Ecclestone is leading the wickets chart with 14 scalps against her name. And Dean, on the other hand, has bagged ten wickets in just four games and has been adding to the brain teasers for the team management (the good ones though).

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Hence in Ecclestone and Dean, England have two match-winners who can provide the side with crucial breakthroughs in the middle overs.

Will the clash on Thursday be a repeat of the 2017 semi-final or will the Proteas reign supreme and break their semi-final hoodoo? Only time will tell.

What they said:

“Yeah, no, that was an extremely good game for us. I felt like England played well, as well. So I don’t think tomorrow is going to be any different. They’re obviously going to bring their A game and we just need to be extremely clinical tomorrow. Yeah, I think they’ve obviously had experience of playing in semifinals and playing against us in the semifinals as well. I think tomorrow will just be who is at their best for longer periods of time and who can stay focus for longer.”

– Sune Luus on the key takeaways from the Group game against England.

“I think it’s probably a positive that I’ve been finding different ways to get out. I think that means there’s no issue I feel pretty confident and I think it’s about going on your experience of how you’ve played previously and how you’ve had a lot of success, I think and I’m sure Anya and Katherine have the same. They’ve had long careers with a lot of success. So it’s just drawing on those experiences and thinking about the next game. I think that’s so important. You can’t take the baggage of previous games into your next one.”

– Heather Knight on her finding new ways to get out in every game.

Players to watch out for:

Mignon du Preez: A veteran of 153 ODI games, du Preez was struggling very badly during the initial stages of the tournament. But since her breathtaking 38 not out against the West Indies on a wicket that had plenty on offer for the seamers she has looked unstoppable. She looked in her elements in the last game and won the match for the Proteas in an intense run chase and is peaking at the right time.

Heather Knight: The skipper of the side, Knight hasn’t fired as per her potential. She has been finding new ways to get out as she also mentioned during the pre-match press conference. She doesn’t look out of touch, it’s just that she is out of runs and that might well change on Thursday.

Numbers:

Head to head: Played 39 matches, England 29 – 9 South AfricaNo Result

Predicted XI:

South Africa: Lizelle Lee, Laura Wolvaardt, Lara Goodall, Sune Luus (c), Mignon du Preez, Marizanne Kapp, Chloe Tryon, Trisha Chetty (wk), Shabnim Ismail, Ayabonga Khaka, Masabata Klaas

England: Tammy Beaumont, Danielle Wyatt, Heather Knight (c), Natalie Sciver, Amy Jones (wk), Sophia Dunkley, Charlie Dean, Katherine Brunt, Sophie Ecclestone, Kate Cross, Anya Shrubsole