The first boundary of the 40th over of England’s innings went to deep mid-wicket. The second was smacked down the ground. The third was as straight, but on the other side of the bowler. The fourth went square on the leg side, the fifth again scything through mid-wicket to cheers from a crowd ready to witness a statistical nugget.
There would be no sixth however; Sarah Taylor settled for 21 runs off that Shabnim Ismail over. But those six balls underlined, highlighted and painted in glitter the England top order’s absolute comfort and the South African bowlers’ abject misery on a flat Bristol pitch in their ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 match on Wednesday.
Taylor’s career-best score of 147, off just 104 balls, and Tammy Beaumont’s own classy century in a 275-run stand for the second wicket lifted the home side to 373 for 5. South Africa made a good chase of it, but nothing more than 290 has ever been chased down in women’s cricket, and this was not the day for that record to change. It would add up to being the highest aggregate ever in women’s ODIs, though, and its 305 for 9 the highest total batting second, but South Africa still fell short by 68 runs.
Beaumont and Taylor’s stand was the second-highest in women’s One-Day Internationals after the 320 put up by Deepti Sharma and Poonam Raut in May. It was a period in the game marked by technique, placement and innovation, as the duo brought out the paddles, scoops and flips with the cheeky confidence the teenagers in the stands would have approved of.
Beaumont, without the weight of runs to boost her coming into this game, wasn’t fully comfortable early on, but picked up her pace and eventually finished on 148 off 145 balls.
Taylor, meanwhile, attacked from the onset to bring up her sixth career century, the first since 2013 and the first since an emotional return to the game after a break to deal with anxiety issues. Her effort included 24 fours and a reminder of what an effective 360-degree player she can be.
After Heather Knight won the toss and chose to bat, South Africa began with purpose on a pitch that looked quite green, but perhaps not on the areas that mattered to the team’s five-pronged pace attack.
Ismail was compact and had a loud shout for caught behind off her first over, but Marizanne Kapp was guilty of trying too hard. That Lauren Winfield and Beaumont were picking off even the good balls and the zippy outfield allowed anything past the circle for four wasn’t making their lives any easier.
The first-change bowlers pulled things back slightly, the left-arm seam of Moseline Daniels the most effective, but England kept up a comfortable rate to reach 54 for no loss at the end of the Power Play overs.
Daniels ended the first-wicket stand at 59 in the 12th over, having Winfield caught at short third man off a top edge that went very high. The South Africans, who had so brilliantly bowled out Windies for 48 their previous game, would have no further success till the 47th over.
The five overs of the batting Power Play, taken in the 36th over, had Kapp and Ismail offering little and being punished for 67 runs.
Beaumont was the first to her hundred in that period, a paddled four – her 15th of the game – towards deep fine-leg taking her to the milestone. Taylor, who had another ramp shot take her to 98, brought up hers off 80 balls soon after, before going on her four-hitting frenzy.
The South African fielding, which had been on point early on, showed signs of fraying under the pressure with overthrows and misfields, while the full tosses came with greater frequency.
A three-wicket over from Kapp in the 48th, where she saw the back of Natalie Sciver, Beaumont and Katherine Brunt, meant Knight’s 10-ball 22 was the only late flourish England would get, but that would be enough on the day.
South Africa’s Lizelle Lee and Laura Wolvaardt made sure England’s bowlers were as miserable about the pitch. While Brunt got in a maiden, Anya Shrubsole allowed the batters to carry on at a healthy rate.
Wolvaardt drove beautifully before settling into strike rotation. Lee, rather than plunge forth in her usual crash-bang style, gave herself time. With some help from the English fielders – she was dropped thrice – Lee kept South Africa in the hunt. She pulled Shrubsole square on the on-side for her first six in the fourth over. She would go on to add other and bring up her fifty with a swept four before becoming the first to fall with the team score on 128. A change of ends worked for Sciver, who bowled her for a 77-ball 72 with a well executed yorker.
A couple of quick wickets threatened to undo the good work of the openers, until Chloe Tryon decided the fight wasn’t out of South Africa yet.
After staying quiet for three balls, she exploded in a flurry of boundaries, including a powerful straight six into the sight screen. A four sneaked behind to fine leg and another was struck over long-off in a 20-run over that had action all around the ground. Two back-to-back sixes over midwicket, including one deposited into the stands, brought up her fifty off just 25 balls. Danielle Hazell, though, had her own back, having her caught in the same area inside the circle for an incredible 26-ball 54, which included five fours and four sixes. Tryon was furious she couldn’t see the game through.
It was to South Africa’s credit that it got past 300, Sune Luus joining in the six hitting. It might have lost this game, but to opponents watching, it was a statement of the South Africans’ spirit.