Home side’s batting and South Africa’s bowling have made headlines, but the first semi-final will be about much more.
Semi-final 1: England v South Africa
Tuesday 18 July, Bristol @ 10:30am local
One side has the top run-getter of the tournament, the other the two leading wicket-takers. One side has two scores of 370-plus and five centuries from their batters, the other has twice bundled out opponents for less than 105.
At its most simplistic, the England v South Africa semi-final is a competition between the contenders for strongest batting side and for the strongest bowling side. But looking closely, Tuesday’s face-off at the County Ground in Bristol is between two well-rounded and highly competitive teams.
When the teams last played each other, at the same ground in the group stage, South Africa fell 68 runs short, but made a spirited chase of England’s 373 for 5.
South Africa’s response of 305 for 9 was the highest score in women’s ODIs for a team batting second. Its error had been in missing its lines and lengths and not responding quickly enough to the innovation of Tammy Beaumont and Sarah Taylor, centurions of the day in their second-wicket stand.
England has made an average of 49.29 runs in the first 10 overs this tournament. South Africa is close behind at 49.17. Both teams have in their top order batters who can clear the ropes without breaking a sweat. Of the 97 sixes in this tournament, these teams have hit 20 each.
England has Nat Sciver, the all-rounder who has two centuries already. She was out for a duck in their final group game, but made up with three wickets.
South Africa has Dane van Niekerk, who is leading the bowling charts and has a 50 to her name. England, perhaps, has just a little more depth, although Shabnim Ismail at No. 9 has won South Africa a match with the bat.
Ismail and Marizanne Kapp, on their day, are an intimidating new-ball pair. But England has the experience of Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole too. South Africa has two leg-spinners who can change the game with a clutch of wickets. England banks on its left-arm spinner and offspinners.
England does have a few things to give it a slight edge however. Experience of the big stage, home support and history, for example.
Heather Knight’s side has, so far, thrived under (or despite) the spotlight on them. A healthy number of tickets have been sold for this semi-final, with more walk-ins expected. And the captain hoped there might be a few “sickies” (sick leave days) cashed in midweek with more people coming to support them!
England has done well to entertain the fans, even as it has enjoyed its own game and brought a lightness to it.
Including the most recent win, England is on a run of 18 triumphs in its last 19 encounters. The one South Africa win, however, which came at SuperSport Park, Centurion, is something dear to Van Niekerk and it is that kind of intensity that her side is keen to bring to the clash.
The track is the same one used for the England v Australia thriller back on July 9 and hasn’t seen action since then. It is likely to be another good batting track in Bristol, and in a tournament that has seen batting elevated to a new level in the women’s game, another cracker of a contest.
Players in focus
England: Tammy Beaumont: Beaumont, the opener, is the leading run-getter of the tournament with 372 runs from seven games. After a slow start, she has found her range, capable of both providing stability as well as keeping the scoring rate up. In the group stage, she tormented the South African bowlers with cheeky shots behind square in a memorable 148.
South Africa: Dane van Niekerk: Van Niekerk, the South Africa captain and leg-spinner, is on top of the list for most wickets after the group stage, with 15, including that record 4 for none against Windies. Whether it’s a batting track, when she will need to slow it down, or it’s one that takes turn, she will play a big role.
What they said
Mark Robinson, England coach: “South Africa was my first tour. They’ve come a long way and hopefully we’ve come a long way too. It (previous win) probably counts for nothing to a degree. It counts for something because we’ll get confidence from it and hopefully we’ve left a few scars, but to a large extent, it’s a one-off game, a winner-takes-all match. It’s about coping with pressure and doing the very simple things very well.”
Heather Knight, England captain: “The girls have been calm and relaxed and going about their business with a purpose. The schedule has been full on, and it just feels like another game. Obviously there will be added nerves for the semi-final, but that’s natural; it wouldn’t be human if that wasn’t the case. It’s important we trust in our skills and put up a strong performance. It’s the big games that you want to do well in.”
Dane van Niekerk, South Africa captain: “It’s like going for an exam. If you know you’ve studied, you don’t have to stress about the exam. The way I’ve seen the team ‘study’, I cannot not have confidence in them. I’m glad everything is coming together. England have got a great bowling attack and to score 300 against an attack like that (in the previous game) is a big confidence booster. We just want to stick to our plans.”
England: Heather Knight (capt), Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt, Georgia Elwiss, Jenny Gunn, Alex Hartley, Danielle Hazell, Beth Langston, Laura Marsh, Natalie Sciver, Anya Shrubsole, Sarah Taylor (wk), Fran Wilson, Lauren Winfield, Danielle Wyatt.
South Africa: Dane van Niekerk (capt), Trisha Chetty (wk), Moseline Daniels, Nadine de Klerk, Mignon du Preez, Shabnim Ismail, Marizanne Kapp, Ayabonga Khaka, Odine Kirsten, Masabata Klaas, Lizelle Lee, Sune Luus, Raisibe Ntozakhe, Chloe Tryon, Laura Wolvaardt.