By Shashank Kishore in Sylhet
South Africa Women strolls to 44-run win after their openers put together unbeaten 163-run stand
South Africa Women displayed a show of confidence and brutal aggression very rarely seen from it at a global event as it lorded it over Pakistan Women by 44 runs in their Group A match at the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 at the Sylhet Divisional Stadium on Sunday (March 23).
Perhaps the lack of dew earlier in the evening influenced Mignon du Preez's decision to bat first as the South African dugout was treated to a mixture of artistic and fearsome batting, particularly at the death.
Rising to the occasion were two promising batters – Dane van Niekerk and Lizelle Lee – who lived up to their potential when thrown in at the deep end in a vital fixture as South Africa posted an imposing 163 without loss in 20 overs. Van Niekerk, whose highest score in 30 previous T20 Internationals was 34, smashed an unbeaten 90 off just 66 balls to lead the charge, while Lee made an enterprising 67.
Although Pakistan’s batters showed intent right from the outset, there was a touch of uncertainty to the chase that eventually fizzled out after the halfway mark as it ended with 119 for 9. Only Nida Dar offered some promise with a sprightly 32 even as the middle order batters threw their wickets away in their quest to clear the ropes.
While Pakistan struggled to find the boundary, the first 90 minutes of the game left the umpires with sore arms. There was a sense of calm and purpose to South Africa's innings upfront as van Niekerk and Lee built a firm base, but once they had the measure of the bowling, all hell broke loose.
Van Niekerk was the more aggressive of the two early on, as she set the tone for the evening with a six down the ground off Sana Mir in the third over. South Africa's approach was particularly refreshing because of the efficiency of the openers against the spinners, something neither Australia nor New Zealand could manage earlier in the day on a similar pitch.
That, perhaps, also spoke volumes of the ability of both batters, particularly against Mir, who conceded 45 off her four overs.
Van Niekerk hardly put a foot wrong during the course of her innings, sweeping, cutting and even playing the AB de Villiers-like lap sweep against the pacers. For a majority of the 20 overs, Lee's role was restricted to rotating the strike and watching her partner put on a show.
Mir's lack of confidence showed in her fielding too, as she grassed a simple chance at midwicket from by Lee in the tenth over off Asmavia Iqbal. Thereafter, Pakistan went off the boil completely as it put down four more chances, including two by Anam Amin at short third man. Van Niekerk was the recipient of the generosity on both the occasions, as South Africa smashed 60 off the last five overs.
In its reply, Pakistan lost both Qanita Jalil and Javeria Khan inside four overs, but Dar and Nain Abidi weren't giving up yet, and they launched a counter-attack to catch the bowlers off guard for a while. Abidi oozed class and her timing through the off-side was delightful. But three classy boundaries later, she was bowled by Sune Luus, the offspinner, when she tried to walk across the stumps and play a cheeky paddle.
Dar followed in the next over when an attempted slog across the line was pouched by Sunette Loubser, who took an excellent catch running backwards from mid-off. At 81 for 4 in the 13th over, the task just got tougher. In between some mindless slogging, Marizanne Kapp, the steady medium pacer, picked up three wickets to close out the Pakistan challenge.
The win came not just as a shot in the arm for South Africa, but also provided it a headstart with a healthy net run-rate only bound to help its cause should it come to that at the end of the group stages.