After two and a half weeks of compelling cricket, Australia and South Africa will take the field at Newlands in Cape Town to contest the final of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2023 on Sunday.
The hosts South Africa have made it to their first-ever T20 World Cup final. On the other hand defending champions Australia will make their seventh successive appearance in the match to decide the competition.
Historically, Australia have an overwhelming advantage over South Africa in the format, having beaten the Proteas in all of their previous six T20I engagements.
Their last encounter was a group stage match in this tournament, where Australia won the game by six wickets.
However, South Africa have put two compelling performances since that loss. They beat Bangladesh by a comprehensive margin of 10-wickets to make it to the semi-finals, and then went on to upend a strong England side in the semis by six runs.
Both sides have enough talent in their camps to make the final a riveting clash. Let’s look at the key battles to watch out for during the contest.
South Africa’s top-order starts
In their last two games, South Africa’s top-order has managed to give them strong starts.
In their final group game, the Proteas openers remained unbeaten in their pursuit of the Bangladesh target. Against England, their top three helped them to a strong 142/2 in 17.5 overs. This eventually led to a match-winning total of 164/4.
South Africa would hope that Laura Wolvaardt, Tazmin Brits and Marizanne Kapp come good in the final.
Speaking of Brits, South Africa’s highest run-scorer (176 at an average of 44) in the competition, Coach Hilton Moreeng applauded her character as a player.
“She’s got a lot of self-belief. She’s a hard-working player. And she’s grown since she’s been given the role. She’s learned to adapt at this level. It’s been years of hard work and it showed in yesterday’s game and in this tournament.
“She fights till the end and has a character. She is exceptional. A good talent to have and manage in the squad.”
Nonkululeko Mlaba v Meg Lanning
The Australia skipper Meg Lanning has been the backbone of her side’s batting effort. She has the highest average (69.5) of all Australia batters and scored a crucial 49* in her team’s tight win over India in the semi-finals. Earlier in the tournament, she also scored a match-winning 48* against Bangladesh.
It is remarkable that her only failure in the tournament came against South Africa. The batter fell to the slow left-arm spin of Nonkululeko Mlaba for just one.
Mlaba has been disciplined with the ball (economy rate of 6.36), and has worked well for the Proteas as a new ball bowler.
Spin has already played an important role in the tournament, and Proteas would bank on Mlaba to provide early breakthroughs.
Sharpness in the field
Both Australia and South Africa held their nerve in the field during their semi-final encounters against India and England respectively. Runs saved and chances taken proved to be the deciding factor in these contests.
Brits' acrobatic effort to dismiss Alice Capsey in the Powerplay as one of four catches helped the hosts into the ascendancy, while the Australians showed their collective sharpness, epitomised by the evergreen Ellyse Perry diving around in the deep.
With both sides displaying excellence in the field, the final will come down to which side is able to hold their own at crucial points in the contest.
Australia’s death bowling
One of standout features for Australia in the tournament has been their bowling at the death.
Australia’s bowlers have been stupendous between overs 17-20. In the group encounter against Bangladesh, the side conceded 21/4 in the last four overs to keep the tigresses at 107/7.
They followed this up with a 30/5 against Sri Lanka, which made sure that the batting side got only to 112/8. They were effective against South Africa as well, giving 28/2 to keep the hosts to 124/6.
In the all important semi-final against India, they gave 32/2 to leave their opponents five short of the total.
Australia’s death bowling has ensured that their opponents don’t capitalize from advantageous positions.
The ‘Khaka’ factor
Ayabonga Khaka has been quite excellent for the hosts. She has picked seven wickets at an average of 11.42.
She was of great impact in the semi-final, derailing England's chase with her 4/29. The best bit about her effort was that these wickets came in the middle or death overs, ensuring that England weren’t able to develop a steady momentum in the chase.
Australia have played Khaka only twice before, though didn’t face her in the group stages, and the medium pacer could prove to be bit of a surprise factor for the defending champions.