Lizelle Lee’s breakfast on Saturday was “like every other day – baked beans and sausages.” On the field though, she was anything but everyday-like, providing entertainment with a 65-ball 92 in a 115-run win over India at Grace Road in Leicester.
She had just finished breakfast when Mithali Raj, surprisingly, opted to field, but Lee was ready for a second course in the form of generous Indian bowling. It was not so much the seven sixes she hit as much as the confidence with which she dominated the bowling during her 20.4 overs stay in the middle.
She eventually fell leg before wicket, but by then she had hit her 50th One-Day International six. Data for the number of sixes hit in Women’s ODIs is available from January 2012, and no one is close to Lee. Deandra Dottin, Chloe Tryon and Sophie Devine are in the 30s. Considering the rate at which the game is evolving, Lee’s mark will be surpassed sooner rather than later, but she will always be the first. She has already hit 12 in this World Cup, and credited it to power-hitting training.
“In power hitting, it is about knowing that you still have to keep your shape when you are doing it,” said Lee, even while revealing that when she practiced it for the first time during this tournament, she was unable to connect with the balls. “It is just not about the power, it is about the timing. We have worked on it, and it shows.”
Lee scored 82 of her 92 runs with the help of boundaries, but her second-wicket partnership of 91 with Trisha Chetty involved a lot of running between the wickets. She was also able accelerate because of the pace at which the Indian spinners were bowling to her.
“We have played against them a lot now. We had a look at what they do, and what they don’t do. That just made it easier for us, and helped me in my game today,” she revealed. “The pitch also did not do much. That just helped. We just said we have to go for singles and not get dotted up too much and get the odd boundary. There were a few which they bowled faster at me, but the faster it is the better it is for me! I don’t mind it.”
Although this knock put South Africa a step away from a semi-final berth, Lee still rated her maiden century against Australia last year in a 32-over game as her best. “That was more of a milestone than this one… Would have been different had I got my hundred!”
Shikha Pandey, meanwhile, said that with Lee even hitting the good balls, the bowlers were left helpless.
“All her shots were going well above. Even the good balls we were bowling, with the kind of bat swing that she had, they were clearing the fence," said Pandey. "Even though we got the first wicket in the second over itself, we were on the back foot. She was able to clear the fence. It was not just about getting boundaries. Good balls going for sixes was a concern there. So we tried to slow the game down, but it was her day.”
The moment of the chase came when Dane van Niekerk, the South Africa captain, dismissed Mithali Raj, her opposite number, for a golden duck for the first time in her career. She trapped Harmanpreet Kaur two balls later and triggered a collapse as early as the 13th over.
“Mithali is brilliant. She is insane. Her form is insane, and her demeanour. Any day you get her out, you feel surreal,” said van Niekerk. “I think I did an Imran Tahir. I just took off. As soon as I saw there were no bails on the wicket, I did it. I ran. I pulled Subhi (Shabnim Ismail) along the way and ran with her. It’s really awesome. I didn’t expect it, and I will take it.”
So was it a straighter one, a googly or a leg spinner that did not turn? “The girls were like, ‘oh was it that one (googly), and I said no it was that one (leg spin). Honestly it just went on. I promise you. I just thought I need to go as straight as possible.”
Van Niekerk, the Player of the Match with 4 for 0 against Windies at the same venue, finished with 4 for 22 this time around, but continued to underplay her bowling skills.
“I know it doesn’t look like it, but I am really struggling for rhythm . I am just really happy that when I am landing the ball and pitching it, it is coming out nicely,” she said. “I lost a lot of time on my bowling due to injury. I am working really hard to get to find my rhythm. I am very blessed with the talent I have. I am very lucky that I can not bowl for two months, then can grab the ball and I can land it. But that’s not good enough. I need to bowl more and I need to be as consistent as I can be, and land it on a South African one-cent coin.”
The skipper had earlier made a valuable 57 from No. 6 to help South Africa reach 273 for 9.
“To be honest, I kind of found it hard when I came in because we kind of had a blimp in the middle. It is never nice to lose many wickets in quick succession,” she reflected. “I saw that the run-rate was below six, but I still found it hard coming in because if I was there with five-six other batters waiting then we can just explode. It was not easy, but the fact that the run-rate was high allowed me to absorb the pressure, go in threes and fours. Then it obviously transferred again. (Earlier) Lizelle absolutely bombed every ball.”
With a win to make up for a big loss against England, van Niekerk said she was glad that her bowlers were hurt as that made it possible for them to fire again.
“It was a tough loss,” she said of the England game. “The bowlers needed some downtime. It is a very tough tournament, it is tough on the bodies. We are not used to very long tournaments like this. Whenever we are down we enjoy that because it gives us an opportunity to show the character of what we are made of.”
South Africa is the youngest side in the competition, with the oldest member – Chetty – a month away from turning 29. Fatigue will play a critical role at the business end of the tournament, and van Niekerk stressed on fitness. “If you are not fit then you are not going to make it. We have regular fitness testing. To where we were and where we are now, there is day and night difference.”
Power, fitness and skill have made South Africa a team to look out for in this World Cup.