Women’s T20 World Cup – Australia seal their place in the T20 World Cup final

Australia defied the elements and a spirited South African performance at the Sydney Cricket Ground to scrape into the final of the Women’s Twenty20 World Cup with a win by five runs, much to the relief of local organisers who were desperate for the home team’s presence to help sell tickets to the Melbourne Cricket Ground final.

Earlier in the evening after India and England had their preceding semi-final washed out, there looked little chance that the second match could get the minimum 10 overs per side to reach a recognised result.

But the clouds cleared just in time and the ground staff raced to get Australia on for a full 20 overs of batting, while a subsequent shower left South Africa to chase a revised target in 13 overs.

Australia compiled 134 for 5 on a sticky track, at a run rate of 6.7 per over. The rain adjustment calculations turned that into a target of 98 for South Africa, at a steeper rate of 7.53 given that the side with a shorter innings can afford to take more risks. But South Africa couldn’t quite keep up with the rate, finishing with a late rush at 92 for 5.

Boom-bust opener Lizelle Lee bashed a couple of early boundaries, while in the third over partner Dane van Niekerk swept Sophie Molineux crisply for six. But they were dismissed for 10 and 12 respectively at a run a ball, Lee in the same Molineux over to a fine catch from Ash Gardner at deep midwicket in the greasy conditions, then van Niekerk to a swerving Megan Schutt delivery that zeroed in on the stumps.

South Africa’s inexperience in big moments showed with the failure to elevate their biggest hitter Chloe Tryon in such a short chase. Instead they stuck to a plan by sending out Mignon du Preez, caught at cover by a diving Australian captain Meg Lanning for a duck, and Sune Luus, who struggled to reach a run a ball in her 21.

It was Laura Wolvaardt who kept them in the game. A lovely conventional strokemaker with a tendency to hit elegantly to the infield, the 20-year-old has had to reinvent herself as a finisher for South Africa in this format. Here, she was on five from eight balls before lofting Jess Jonassen’s spin dead straight down the ground for six.

The 10th over against Nicola Carey was the highlight of a style masterclass. To a ball on her stumps, Wolvaardt drove inside out over mid-off for a lofted four. The field dropped back and the seamer tried to stymie a repeat by burrowing the ball in at the pads. Wolvaardt calmly stepped away, a good metre outside her leg stump, and scorched a drive through extra cover to beat the newly placed long-off.

At 66 for 3, that left a gettable target of 32 from 18 balls. Delissa Kimmince responded with a brilliant mix of cutters and wide yorkers to keep her final over to five runs, then Schutt seemingly sealed the match with two dot balls, two singles, and the wicket of Luus caught by Beth Mooney down the ground.

But needing 25 from seven balls, Wolvaardt drilled Schutt’s final ball over midwicket for six, crossed back onto strike as the newly arrived Tryon gave up a catch, then carved through backward point for four.

That left four deliveries to come, all of them needing to find the fence. A new nervousness would have beset Australian administrators after their relief at avoiding a washout. Jonassen remained calm while bowling with a wet ball as incoming rain grew heavier by the delivery. Mooney dived brilliantly to save the next four, and Wolvaardt finished on 41 from 27 balls.

Schutt’s 2 for 17 and Kimmince’s 1 for 16 from their respective three overs were key, but Lanning was named player of the match for her run-a-ball 49 that was the core of her team’s innings. Australia’s free-scoring types struggled on a surface that was rarely conducive to positive strokeplay.

Alyssa Healy typically swung from the hip before miscuing to the infield on 18, Mooney was more convincing before being bowled by Nadine de Klerk’s clever leg-cutter for 28, and Jonassen holed out quickly against Nonkululeko Mlaba. A lovely outswinger from de Klerk took an edge from Gardner for a duck, and the bowler completed 3 for 19 by bowling Rachael Haynes for 17.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s fastest bowler Shabnim Ismail went wicketless but kept the Australians on their toes, using the short ball well and clocking 125 kilometres per hour in four overs that conceded only 20 runs. She nearly had Lanning from a soaring top edge that landed right next to the stumps.

Through it all, Lanning remained. Her footwork was light down the wicket to drive van Niekerk’s leg-break through cover for two, then she repeated the move more emphatically for six. She sent Mlaba’s spin over cover, but largely built her innings circumspectly until the 17th over provided the loose options she wanted.

Ayabonga Khaka donated a couple of wides as well as four leg byes from a ball heading in the same direction, then dished up a couple of full tosses for Lanning to punish over the off side. The over went for 17, and Australia had a vital boost.

A score of 134 still looked light, but it was enough to set a steep task from the start of the chase. South Africa are a team on the rise, and wanted to go better than their semi-final loss in the 50-over World Cup of 2017. That time the hosts were England, who caught them with two balls to spare. This time South Africa fell short against the home side by one big hit.

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