England prevail in final-over thriller to enter WWC17 final

ICC Women’s World Cup 2017

England overcame a mid-innings panic to seal their spot in ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 final with a nervy two-wicket win over South Africa at Bristol on Tuesday (July 18). Sarah Taylor, South Africa’s arch nemesis, joined hands with skipper Heather Knight to lay the platform for a seemingly easy chase of 219 but a stutter in the middle overs, when the hosts were still 80 away from the target, triggered panic in the camp. South Africa flipped what was becoming a one-sided contest into a heart-stopper but failed to translate the threat into reality as Jenny Gunn and Fran Wilson kept their calm under pressure to set up a Lord’s date with only two balls to spare.

If the home team’s strike bowlers were all about discipline, South Africa’s was all nerves. Shabnim Ismail overstepped twice in a row and was duly punished for 13 in her fourth over that brought an end to her opening spell. The change of bowling though brought luck for visitors as the birthday girl, Ayabonga Khaka, took all of three balls to make an impact. Lauren Winfield’s yet another failure brought Tammy Beaumont and Taylor together – the pair that batted South Africa out of the contest earlier in the league stages – but Khaka cleaned up the World Cup’s lead run-getter too, reducing England to 61 for 2. Her opening spell read 5-1-14-2 and kept South Africa in the hunt.

That gradually changed over the course of next 19 overs. Despite the slowness of the pitch and some tight bowling by the spinners, England looked hardly troubled all throughout the Taylor-Knight partnership. The duo slowly closed in the gap between their run rate and the asking rate, taking England past 100 in the 24th over. Taylor was the aggressor in the 78-run stand, while the captain was happy to play second fiddle, and brought up her third 50-plus score of the tournament with a single of Moseline Daniels in the 32nd over.

A mix-up in the middle between the two set batters gave South Africa an opening and Sune Luus’s twin strikes in the following over turned the game on its head. Taylor was caught inches short of her crease as Dane van Niekerk nailed a direct hit at the keeper’s end. Seven balls later, Knight fell to a full toss from Luus, courtesy a blinder from the diving Laura Wolvaardt at square leg. Natalie Sciver, who had two centuries to her name in this competition, was then bowled around her legs by Luus as the visitors crawled their way back into the game.

South Africa tightened the grip in the powerplay giving away only 18 runs. The asking rate, for the first time, shot up and the pressure got to Katherine Brunt who fell over her flick only to see her stumps shattered. With the equation down to 46 required off as many deliveries, South Africa would have fancied their chances of a come-from-behind win.

Amidst the chaos, Gunn and Wilson held their nerves and quickly dashed South Africa’s hopes with a counter-attacking partnership worth 40 in 5.4 overs. The duo went on a boundary-hitting spree against the pacers to edge ahead in the thrilling race. Kapp opened her account in her final over of the day, and so did Ismail but the two wickets, and the bowlers’ wild celebrations, only delayed the inevitable as Anya Shrubsole dispatched the only ball she faced to the fence to clinch the narrow win.

Earlier, some accurate bowling upfront and a good hand from the spinners meant England always managed to keep the visitors under check. South Africa’s innings was built around two fifties, from Wolvaardt and Mignon du Preez. The young opener put together a responsible third-wicket stand alongside her former captain that laid the foundation but once England found a way past their partnership, du Preez struggled for consistent support at the other end to push for a competitive total. The visitors lost wickets in clusters, at start, in the middle overs as well as at the death, and that never really gave them the momentum.

After the pressure of dot balls consumed Lizelle Lee and a lightening fast glove-work from Sarah Taylor put an end to Trisha Chetty’s stay, Wolvaadrt had to ditch her natural, aggressive ways to drop the anchor. She had du Preez for company who kept pushing for singles to keep the scoreboard ticking. The rare times when the English bowlers erred and offered width, the duo dispatched each of those deliveries to the boundary rope.

Wolvaardt got to her seventh ODI fifty, and third against England, with a stunning boundary straight over the bowler’s head in the 25th over and raised the team’s hundred in the following over. The partnership had set South Africa just the perfect platform to launch in the remaining overs but England didn’t let that happen by striking twice within five balls just before the powerplay was due. Coming into the attack in the 32nd over, Knight rattled Wolvaardt’s stumps just as she was starting to accelerate, and two balls later, Kapp paid the price for chasing an ill-advised single. Instead of motoring on, the visitors were pushed into rebuilding their innings all over again.

After the powerplay yielded only 22, Dane van Niekerk hammered Laura Marsh for the only six of South Africa’s innings but another mix-up in the middle involving du Preez cost the skipper dear. The vice-captain, Chloe Tryon, too, followed her into the hut soon after, undone by a slower one from Jenny Gunn which she chipped back to the bowler to leave South Africa six down for 170.

The 48 runs du Preez added with Sune Luus for the unbroken seventh-wicket stand, at little more than six an over, gave the visitors 218. That, despite their tremendous bowling show, fell tad short.

Brief scores: South Africa 218/6 in 50 overs (Mignon du Preez 76*, Laura Wolvaardt 66; Anya Shrubsole 1-33) lost to England 221/8 in 49.4 overs (Sarah Taylor 54, Fran Wilson 30, Heather Knight 30; Ayabonga Khaka 2-28, Sune Luus 2-24) by two wickets.

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