By Shashank Kishore in Mirpur
Charlotte Edwards’s side has the experience, but du Preez and her team, bolstered by a strong spin attack, has exceeded expectations
Two teams with contrasting journeys to the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 2014 will fight for the right to play Australia in the grand finale on Sunday (April 6). England, the pre-tournament favourite, landed in Bangladesh following a summer of domination at the Ashes series in Australia in January, while South Africa merely trained indoors and put together all it takes to play in a team environment after being denied extensive match-time at home due to a wet summer.
Yet when both sides take the field in the first semifinal on Friday at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Mirpur, there will be hardly anything separating them in terms of form. England brushed aside a loss to West Indies in its opening game by winning three on a bounce, while South Africa suffered a minor blip against Australia before overpowering the much-fancied New Zealand in a virtual quarterfinal in Sylhet.
But there is no denying South Africa Women will be the one to do the running after positioning itself in uncharted territory. Before the tournament got under way, Mignon du Preez, the captain, said it was important to have "realistic expectations" of the team. Not only has it managed to exceed its own expectation by reaching the semifinals for the first time, but also injected tremendous self-belief in its talented crop along the way.
"It’s a great moment for South African cricket to see both the men's team and the women's team playing the semifinal on the same day," said du Preez. "It's a situation we’ve never been in before, so that makes it extra special for us. To be playing in front of a big crowd and the television audiences would be a wonderful exposure for this team.
"Where we are today is purely because of the work all of us have put in. At the World Cup last year, we showed signs of developing as a side even though the results didn’t go our way, but coming in here, there was a change in mindset, strategies, and so far we’ve executed all our plans perfectly. We’re all excited about the semis."
Chloe Tyron, the left-arm pacer, who injured herself while fielding in the last league game against New Zealand, is reportedly fit for the game, leaving the team management with one headache less. Tyron, who scored the winning runs to seal the semifinal berth, along with the spin troika of Dane van Niekerk, Sunne Luus and Sunette Loubser, will have a vital role to play on pitches that have tended to assist spin.
New Zealand needs all the advantage of the conditions for it’s up against the Charlotte Edwards-led side known to up its game under pressure. While experience would point towards England, which has won all seven completed T20 Internationals against South Africa, Edwards wasn’t prepared to underestimate her opponents for reasons well documented.
"When we lost the first game, I just told the team we have five games to win to lift the cup. We’re just two games away now and all the girls know this is a wonderful chance to cap off a summer that has been really close to our hearts so far, especially after the two Ashes wins. This will be the icing on the cake."
As well as England's slow bowlers – Danielle Hazelle, Jenny Gunn and Natalie Sciver – have bowled, it comes as a surprise that its best bowler has been Anya Shrubsole, who has 10 wickets in four matches at an economy of under four runs an over. Predominantly an in-swing bowler, Shrubsole has taken over the mantle of leader of the bowling group in the absence of the injured Katherine Brunt.
In a sign that could be a positive one yet, the batting hasn’t entirely come into its own despite showing patches of brilliance. Charlotte Edwards has been in fine nick at the top, but Lydia Greenway and Heather Knight are yet to find their mojo although there’s no reason to lose faith just yet. The team management would be heartened by Sarah Taylor’s return to form both with the bat and behind the stumps.
South Africa hasn’t stopped short of calling itself the underdog, but England is wary of calling itself the favourite. It’s a contest worth waiting for.
South Africa: Mignon du Preez (capt), Trisha Chetty (wk), Shandre Fritz, Dane van Niekerk, Yolandi van der Westhuzien, Moseline Daniels, Marizanne Kapp, Lizelle Lee, Shabnim Ismal. Marcia Letsoalo, Sunette Loubser, Sune Luus, Nadine Moodley, Chloe Tyron, Andrie Steyn.
England: Charlotte Edwards (capt), Tammy Beaumont, Lydia Greenway, Rebecca Grundy, Jenny Gunn, Danielle Hazell, Amy Jones, Heather Knight, Natalie Sciver, Anya Shrubsole, Sarah Taylor (wk), Frances Wilson, Kate Cross, Jodie Dibble, Georgia Elwiss.