Before the T20 World Cup kick-started, Australia's skipper Meg Lanning had predicted that South Africa could be the potential dark horses for the showpiece event and that they could pose a threat to any team.
“There are a few South Africans who played some really good cricket throughout (the WBBL),” Lanning had said.
Her prediction came true as South Africa were unbeaten in the group stages and topped Group B. With rain looming as a huge threat in Sydney, the second semi-final between Australia and South on Thursday (March 5) could potentially be washed out.
That could be curtains for Australia in the campaign, as the table toppers of the respective groups automatically go into the finals. The hosts were just about peaking at the right time. After a small hiccup against India, Australia bounced back as a champion team and have won three matches on the bounce. Ellyse Perry not taking further part in the tournament due to injury is a big blow, but the hosts have got enough depth to challenge South Africa.
“Ellyse is a very experienced player and big-game player as well,” Lanning said ahead of the game.
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“She knows what it takes to perform under pressure and that’s going to be really handy for us tomorrow. We have had our meetings and everything. She has been a really good contributor, and always is.”
Australia have the luxury of seven allrounders in their squad and they could choose anyone based on the conditions. The pitch at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) generally favours spin and Sophie Molineux may get her chance, if she proves her fitness. The left-arm spinner is handy with the bat too, and could score some quick runs in the death overs.
Australia's big match players have come good with Beth Mooney, Alyssa Healy, Rachael Haynes and Megan Schutt all stepping up at crucial junctures. Lanning has not looked convincing so far, but her record at the knockouts of the T20 World Cup is staggering, to say the least. She has played 11 matches and has scored 410 runs at an average of 45.55. Enough for South Africa to be wary about.
The Proteas have by far looked the most complete team in the competition, but they are babies when it comes to semi-finals, in the words of Dane van Niekerk, their captain.
“Australia have been in so many semi-finals and finals. We are babies compared to them when it comes to experience.”
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A mix of youth and experience in the team has given them the flexibility to try different options which have so far come good. Nonkululeko Mlaba has often bowled in the power plays and has kept things tight. Apart from her youngster Laura Wolvaardt too has impressed with a stunning unbeaten fifty against Pakistan. These two young turks have taken their chances and have allowed the senior players in the side to play aggressively with freedom.
South Africa have not beaten Australia in the four previous encounters at the World Cups. But the Proteas will fancy their chances this time as they have looked good in all the departments. A mouthwatering clash awaits, between two evenly contested teams. That is, if rain relents.
South Africa: Dane van Niekerk (c), Laura Wolvaardt, Lizelle Lee, Mignon du Preez, Marizanne Kapp, Sune Luus, Chloe Tryon (vc), Shabnim Ismail, Ayabonga Khaka, Masabata Klaas, Tumi Sekhukhune, Trisha Chetty, Nonkululeko Mlaba, Nadine de Klerk, Nondumiso Shangase.
Australia: Rachael Haynes, Megan Schutt, Alyssa Healy, Meg Lanning (c), Jess Jonassen, Delissa Kimmince, Beth Mooney, Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Sophie Molineux, Georgia Wareham, Erin Burns, Molly Strano, Annabel Sutherland.