By Shashank Kishore in Sylhet
South Africa Women looks in fine shape but the all-round ability of its opponents might be too much for it to contend with
A campaign that appeared a breeze with New Zealand winning three matches in a row suddenly received a jolt when South Africa Women beat Ireland Women convincingly and then, to make things worse, Meg Lanning's Australia Women elevated its net run-rate above all other sides to reach the top of Group A.
As a result, New Zealand now finds itself in a do-or-die battle against Mignon du Preez's South Africa in the final league fixture at the Sylhet Divisional Stadium on Monday (March 31). The situation would have come as a delight for the organisers in Sylhet before the action moves to the hustle and bustle of Dhaka and the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Mirpur for the knockouts.
But New Zealand has done most things right. There's been a stamp of authority in the manner in which it has dismantled its opponents, and there's no major reason to fret as South Africa is in unchartered territory, as it would be its maiden shot at the ICC World T20 semifinal, and how it handles the pressure in crunch moments might form the crux of the contest.
Till not too long ago, South Africa’s problems stemmed right at the top of the batting with the openers unable to set the tempo, putting immense pressure on the batters to follow. But this time, it seems to have found an ideal combination at the top in Lizelle Lee and Dane van Niekerk. That has also ensured the batting strength is well distributed, with the experienced Trisha Chetty, du Preez and Marizanne Kapp manning the middle order.
The lower order prowess came to light against Ireland, with Chloe Tyron, the left-arm medium pacer, and Sune Luus wielding the long handle to good effect, smashing 63 off the last three overs. While that bodes well for the team, what it will be aware of is that the quality of bowling it is up against is far superior, even though it doesn’t have the numbers to back that up. None of the New Zealand bowlers are in the top ten among highest wicket-takers in the tournament. But that’s just an indication of how well rounded the team is. The template has mostly been to set up tall totals for the bowlers to defend without a fuss.
There's an air of intimidation about the batting. Suzie Bates, the captain, is hot on the heels of Lanning in the list of highest run-getters in the competition. Her highest score of 94 not out and a strike rate of over 140 is enough to give any bowling side the jitters. Also, in its previous game, New Zealand brought back Sophie Devine and she struck form right away with a blistering 44.
Devine's elevation meant that Frances Mackay, who found success along with Bates at the top, had to drop down the order. It’s a direct sign of the batting strength and it won’t be an easy task for South Africa to contain that explosive a batting line-up brimming with ability all the way.
On the face of it, New Zealand will start as the favourite, but underestimating South Africa might be foolhardy.
South Africa Women: Mignon du Preez (capt), Trisha Chetty (wk), Shandre Fritz, Dane van Niekerk, Yolandi van der Westhuzien, Moseline Daniels, Marizanne Kapp, Lizelle Lee, Shabnim Ismail. Marcia Letsoalo, Sunette Loubser, Sune Luus, Nadine Moodley, Chloe Tyron, Andrie Steyn.
New Zealand Women: Suzie Bates (capt), Sara McGlashan, Frances Mackay, Katey Martin, Nicola Browne, Samantha Curtis, Sophie Devine, Rachel Priest (wk) Maddy Green, Holly Huddleston, Hayley Jensen, Felicity Leydon-Davis, Morna Neilsen, Katie Perkins.