England: 123/8 (Sciver 50, Khaka 3/25, Van Niekerk 2/20)
South Africa: 127/4 (Van Niekerk 46, Kapp 38, Ecclestone 2/19)
South Africa won by 6 wickets
CAPE TOWN – Sometimes sport provides a story which not only trounces fiction, but provides a script that is simply beyond the fantasy world.
Mignon du Preez had said it was a “dream come true” to have the opportunity to play 100 T20I’s for the Proteas Women’s team. To achieve that feat on Sunday against England in the Proteas’ ICC T20 World Cup opening game at the WACA was “pretty special” too.
It should then be no surprise that the veteran batsman was completely “stumped” for words after smashing the winning runs to take the Proteas home with just two balls remaining in her milestone game. The fact that it was also the first time the Proteas had overcome premier rivals England at a World Cup only added to the gravitas.
Du Preez certainly hauled out all her years of experience to remain calm in the most pressurised situations. With the Proteas seemingly bungling a routine chase at the death, the situation facing Du Preez was seven runs required off the final four balls.
MIGNON DU PREEZ YOU BEAUTY!! The T20I centurion hits the winning runs for #proteaswomen for their first victory over @ECB_cricket women in a #T20WorldCup. SA win by 6 wickets!! @IOLsport #AlwaysRising
— Zaahier Adams (@ZaahierAdams) February 23, 2020
Two consecutive mighty blows – the first a hefty swipe over backward square for six followed by another for a boundary – off the equally experienced Katherine Brunt and England’s total of 123/8 was surpassed, bringing about shrieks of joy from Du Preez and Sune Luus before their ecstatic Proteas teammates engulfed the duo in the middle.
“I am stumped for words. I was nervous,” Du Preez said after the six-wicket victory.
However, after taking a few moments to compose herself, Du Preez just knew she had to be the Proteas’ heroine on the night.
“It was my opportunity to step up. I had always wanted to be a match winner for my country and I’ve played 100 games so I knew I had to be the person to finish it for my team. To do it in my 100th game was really special. It was amazing,” said Van Niekerk, who finished unbeaten with 18 off only 11 balls.
The classy right-hander was certainly not the Proteas’ sole standout performer on the night though. Captain Dane van Niekerk produced a brilliant all-round performance contributing 46 off 51 balls at the top of the order, while also claiming 2/20 with the ball to earn the Player of the Match award.
— Ashfak Mohamed (@ashfakmohamed) February 23, 2020
But the prize could equally have gone to fellow all-rounder Marizanne Kapp, who also contributed 38 off just 33 balls after earlier taking 2/19 too.
However, the real plaudits should go to the entire Proteas bowling and fielding unit. Led by Ayabhonga Khaka’s 3/25 and fiery burst of 1/26 from Shabnim Ismail, it set the tone as the much-vaunted England batting unit were placed in a straight jacket throughout their innings.
The bowlers executed their plans perfectly, bowling with great discipline to the fields that were set. It also helped that South Africa were excellent in hustling around the covers and boundary.
Ismail was particularly good, taking a blinding catch after racing around the long-off boundary to dismiss England captain Heather Knight. She remained busy all evening too.
It was only Natalie Sciver (50 off 41 balls) that helped the 50-over world champions to a competitive total, but the Proteas were not to be denied again even after a middle-order wobble that saw them slump from 90/1 in 15.2 overs to the final over equation of nine from the last six balls.
South Africa will know they ultimately made heavy weather of the chase and will need to be better if they are to go all the way here in Australia. But that’s a story for another day.
Last night was about Mignon du Preez and the Proteas finally getting a monkey off their backs that had haunted them for so long. It could be the beginning of something really special.