Women’s cricket delivers on action – for those smart enough to watch

The Women’s World Cup (WWC) is nearing its end, with five of eight teams in a tight race for the final four, but you’d be forgiven for not following proceedings. Also taking place in England at the same time is the men’s Test series between England and South Africa, Wimbledon, and the Premier League transfer window – so women’s cricket is crammed somewhere between Joe Root, Andy Murray and Lukaku. Firdose Moonda rounds up the progress and prospects of the South African women’s cricket team.

It’s a pity that while the weekend saw two of the most important results in the competition and Wednesday will prove decisive in the semi-final race, the women had to compete with the men’s Test match and will clash with the men’s quarterfinals at Wimbledon. While there’s nothing the ICC can do about other sports, the timing of this tournament could lead to a discussion about creating a separate window for the WWC, which allows it some breathing room away from men’s marquee events.

It’s not a completely idealistic thought if you consider that the WWC has proved itself capable of setting its own agenda. So far, we’ve seen Pakistan go winless in five matches, the complete opposite of their men’s team. South Africa also rejected the precedent set by their men’s team by beating India.

The latter result is crucial because it has opened the door for South Africa to secure a semi-final spot. They need to beat Sri Lanka so that even if they lose to Australia in the last group match, they have enough points to go through. All the signs  they should manage that.

South Africa’s batting has become stronger as the matches have progressed. From successfully chasing a total over 200 in their opener against Pakistan, to mowing down West Indies’ mediocre target of 49 inside seven overs, to fighting to top 300 against England, who set them a crazy 374 to win, they have adapted to conditions and adjusted the pace of their run-scoring to make a statement.

Key to the South African cause has been opening batsman Lizelle Lee. She struck 72 off 77 balls against England with seven fours and two sixes, and 92 off 65 balls with 10 fours and seven sixes against India in displays of power-hitting that speak to the evolution of the women’s game. Remember that this is a format in which boundaries have been brought in because women were deemed unable to clear the same stretches men can. Lee is showing that they are getting strong enough to challenge that.

While Lee sets South Africa up, captain Dane van Niekerk and strike bowler Marizanne Kapp prevent the opposition from doing the same. The pair, along with two other players from Australia and India, share top spot on the bowling charts with nine wickets each. Kapp’s class is well-known – she is the top-ranked bowler in the world – so she would have been expected to do well but van Niekerk’s performance is eye-catching. On surfaces that the skipper herself did not think would suit spin, her leg-breaks have brought breakthroughs.

As a unit, South Africa are tighter than ever before. Former captain and middle-order batsman Mignon du Preez said this time, “something’s different. We feel like family. We are really enjoying each other’s company and I feel we’re going to do something special.”

Sri Lanka, who are yet to win a game, look to be a minor obstacle before South Africa face Australia in a potential warm-up for their knockout match, which may see the two teams facing off again. On Sunday, England showed the rest that Australia could be beaten, albeit by a slim margin. The England Women won by three runs, moments after their men triumphed over South Africa in the first Test.

All eyes may have been on the men but a lot of the excitement lay with the women.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Daily Vox.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo‘s South Africa correspondent. She has covered three World Cups, and several bilateral series over the last decade. This is her first women’s cricket event.

Featured image via Cricket South Africa on Facebook