It was impressive to witness the progress being made on Friday as three generations of men from one South African family sprinted along the sidewalk outside Newlands to enter the venue in time for the start of a women’s cricket match. They paused for a handshake and a “how are you?” but their urgency and importance were equally obvious. They were watching a T20 World Cup quarterfinal, and their jittery excitement and the Proteas shirts that three of the four of them were sporting demonstrated their dedication to the team. So much so that not a single word was said regarding the men’s Test series against the West Indies, which begins in Centurion on Tuesday and features a new skipper and coach, to boot.
A caterer at the venue would deliver food to the Atlantic Seaboard for the Formula E Grand Prix almost 12 hours later at 3 a.m. on Saturday. This represented some progress because the Formula E Grand Prix had caused traffic to become so backed up that the normally 20-minute drive to Newlands took an exhausting hour. Maybe Cape Town is growing to the point where it can accommodate more than one major event at once, but no one stuck in traffic missed the irony of hundreds of thousands of vehicles being crammed bumper to bumper into small streets so that less than 3km of public roads could be transformed into a private playground for a few aspiring F1 drivers and their battery-operated toys for two days. The survivors of the trudge and the hotfoots alike, as well as all 7,507 attendees, forgot about it as the sun began to set over Table Mountain because they had all been rewarded for their efforts with an epic; the drama of swings, roundabouts, and context rarely seen in any format, much less the shortest. And particularly not in games that South Africa plays in during the championship rounds of tournaments.
It is unfair to drag the women’s squad into the muck created by the men, but it will nonetheless happen. Unlike their males, who have choked far too frequently, South African women have not frequently done so. The women must now be commended for playing the best cricket of any squad from their nation to date. Fittingly, the reward for that success has propelled them to a World Cup final, a location no senior South African team had ever been, despite having advanced to eight white-ball semifinal matches prior to Friday’s match.
It was as amazing as it was merited for the South Africans to defeat England by six runs after the English team had defeated them in three of their previous five semifinal matches. This wasn’t a mistake brought on by a misfield here, a wide there, or a bad shot somewhere else. Better batting, better bowling, better fielding, and greater mental toughness under pressure led to a well-deserved victory. It was illogical in some respects. Although only the seventh-highest score overall, South Africa’s 164/4 was their best total of the competition. They only had a higher total eight times in their other 139 T20Is. They triumphed in every one of those contests, but in a February 2018 match in Potchefstroom, they scored 164/4 against India and lost by seven wickets with seven balls left. England received only 29 deliveries while South Africa needed 48 to achieve 50 on Friday. South Africa had a score of 67 for none after 10 overs. England was down 84-2. South Africa took 86 balls to reach three digits, 11 more than England.
However, the English had never been able to win a T20 World Cup game by effectively chasing a higher score. They had only pulled in a larger goal twice out of their 87 prior T20Is in which they had batted first. Danni Wyatt recorded a century both times. This time, Wyatt was out for 34 after being misled by Ayabonga Khaka’s slower ball and being caught at short fine leg by a diving Tazmin Brits, one of her four catches that tied the world record. The best of them came when Shabnim Ismail’s bouncer left Alex Capsey with nowhere to hide, forcing her to scramble and make a low-as-her-laces catch at midwicket on the edge of the circle. Brits responded when asked to elaborate, I was expecting you’re going to tell me how I happened to catch it because I don’t know what happened there. After batting, my thighs were so exhausted. I simply responded, and, yes, it stayed.
On Sunday South Africa Women are going to make history to face Australia in the World Cup Final for the first time.