Cape Town – The Proteas Women, with one pool game left to play against the West Indies on Tuesday, have already punched their ticket to the semi-finals at the 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia.
It has been the most impressive start for skipper Dane van Niekerk and her side with wins over England, Thailand and Pakistan leaving the Proteas a win away from topping their pool ahead of England, who have fought back with three wins in a row since being stunned by South Africa.
The Proteas have never contested a World Cup final before in either the 50 over or 20 over formats, but the group of players currently in Australia looks to be more than capable and one of the reasons for that is the depth of match-winners they have in their side.
In years past, the Proteas relied far too heavily on the likes of Marizanne Kapp or Van Niekerk for success. The class of 2020, though, boasts players capable of changing games from the top of their order to the bottom.
Lizelle Lee’s 100 against Thailand was indicative of what she can do from the top of the order while Van Niekerk is also a pure ball striker. Kapp is in good form with the bat too, Mignon du Preez has played over 100 T20s and brings a calm to the middle order while the likes of Sune Luus and Chloe Tryon provide injection lower down.
In the bowling department, Shabnim Ismail continues to impress as one of the most effective seamers in world cricket while Ayabonga Khaka has come on in leaps and bounds in the last year.
Even without Kapp bowling – she was withdrawn after suffering heart palpitations against Pakistan – the Proteas turned to a spin bowling unit of Van Niekerk, Luus and 19-year-old left-arm orthodox Nonkululeku Mlaba, who took the new ball on Sunday and impressed with figures of 1/20 (4).
The real match winner on Sunday, however, was 20-year-old Laura Wolvaardt.
Coming in with the score at 54/3 after 10 overs, Wolvaardt hit 53* (36) to get her side to a score of 136/6 that was too much for Pakistan.
It was another example of somebody producing the goods when the big-name players didn’t come off, and this innings will be a massive confidence booster for a player who has struggled to find a role in the T20 side.
A natural opener alongside Lee in the ODI side, Wolvaardt is not the biggest hitter in the women’s game and she was striking at comfortably less than 100 before Sunday.
But what she lacked in raw power, Wolvaardt made up for with intelligence as she moved around the crease and opened up the off side where she delivered cover drive after cover drive that found the fence for four.
He running between the wickets was also superb, and by the time she was done Wolvaardt had brought up her second half-century in the format.
It is all contributing towards a batting order that is looking increasingly capable. If South Africa lose a couple of early wickets, they have Wolvaardt and Du Preez to provide stability to the innings. If the top order takes it deep, then there are players like Tryon and Luus who can come in and hit the ground running.
“The role for her has been very challenging,” Proteas coach Hilton Moreeng said when discussing Wolvaardt’s contribution on Sunday.
“She had to realise that for her to be able to have the impact that she had today, it would require hard work and she needed to be able to adapt in a game.
“The way she’s gone about it in the last two years and the hard work she has been putting in paid off today. It was excellent to see how she went about it, making that role her own when the team really needed her.”
According to Moreeng, there were some harsh discussions with Wolvaardt.
“We sat her down and things didn’t go well for her in T20 at the top of order. All she asked was how to get better and stay in the side and contribute,” he said.
“We looked at options and the style that she plays and where she would be suited best.
“If you look at the players around her, she is not the player that will hit sixes as easily as Lizelle Lee would. She brings a different dynamic to the team. She places the ball well and runs between the wickets well, and as she showed today when she needs to hit boundaries she can do so.”
For now, Wolvaardt is operating in somewhat of a floating role, but Moreeng does believe she could have a future as an opener in the format.
“She is still very young and one that absorbs a lot and is a good student,” he said.
“We believe that with time she will grow. We’re not saying that she’s not going to open in the future, but if she wants it then she needs to put up her hand and show she can do it when given the opportunity.”
Tuesday’s clash, which takes place in Sydney, starts at 10:00 (SA time).