Dane van Niekerk, the South African Women’s skipper, was very vocal about her side not having to deal with the additional pressure that reputation and rankings brought with them coming into the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017. Something she felt would enable them to play with more freedom and hold them in good stead. They did, but only until the unpredictability of Pakistan shone through, almost doing the unthinkable of snatching a win from the jaws of defeat. But only almost as South Africa managed to hold on to pull off a three-wicket win in what was a nervy start to their campaign.
More than half the job in the chase of 207, on Sunday (June 25) in Leicester, was done by South Africa’s openers – Laura Wolvaardt and Lizelle Lee. The pair started aggressively from the word go with 18-year-old Wolvaardt kickstarting proceedings with successive boundaries off Asmavia Iqbal. Lee didn’t want to be left far too behind, dispatching Iqbal for three fours in the fifth over as South Africa started strongly.
Lee was dropped twice. Nashra Sandhu dropped a tough return chance when she was on 33 and then Sadia Yousuf fluffed an easy chance at long-off. Lee took advantage of those two reprieves and raced away to her fifty before being trapped leg before by Sana Mir for a 79-ball 60, comprising three sixes. Wolvaardt then was victim of Trisha Chetty’s slow running, which had the opener make the long walk back for 52. At 123 for 2, South Africa were well on top of the required rate. But after the 113-run stand, that was decorated with drives and cuts, ended, Pakistan came fighting back into the contest with their spinners curbing the runs to the extent of inciting suicidal singles.
Javeria plucked out a screamer at midwicket to send back Chetty and Marizanne Kapp, who was playing her 100th ODI, was run out in the next over. What helped Pakistan’s case was the panic that had set into the South African batters with iffy running and mix-ups galore. Runs dried up and South Africa were falling into a mire that seemed implausible to break free from as they slipped to 146 for 4 from 113 for 1.
Chloe Tyron and van Niekerk fell cheaply soon after as Pakistan were easily on top at that stage, but as long as Mignon du Preez was in the middle, South Africa were in with a chance. However, she departed in the 45th over for 30, leaving South Africa’s last three with 30 required off as many. Pakistan’s bowlers had their tails up as the batsmen struggled to get them away. The equation came down to 16 required off the last two. But the turning point came when Pakistan skipper Sana Mir opted to bowl the last over, leaving the young Kainat Imtiaz to bowl the penultimate over.
Shabnim Ismail pierced the gap off the third ball. The fifth was dropped, and to make matters worse, raced away to the boundary. Ismail then lofted the last ball of the over to the boundary to complete a win for her side in a thriller, unbeaten on 22 off 16.
South Africa were itching to unleash their pace stocks against a Pakistan side whose strength lie in their batting. Typically aggressive, opener Ayesha Zafar dispatched Ismail, South Africa’s spearhead, to the point boundary on the first ball of the innings with width on offer. Nahida Khan was cautious to begin with, but Zafar was relentless – only till her offstump took a beating soon after by Kapp.
Kapp would have had two in successive overs, but Javeria Khan was handed a life by skipper van Niekerk, who couldn’t hold onto the drive. Nahida, who had two runs in 14 balls, let loose sending Kapp for two boundaries. Milking the pace and width on offer, Javeria then took on Ismail for successive boundaries as Pakistan made a move on.
Moseline Daniels, the left-arm seamer, was brought in to bring about a change in fortune, and she did the trick with a bit of swing. Javeria, like Zafar, played down the wrong line and ended up with the same result as the ball crashed into middle and off past the inside edge.
A lot was expected from Bismah Maroof who is not only Pakistan’s highest ranked ODI player, but also averaged 46 in English conditions, but it wasn’t to be. Ayabonga Khakha and Daniels curbed the flow of runs as pressure mounted on the Pakistani batters who managed to score only 15 runs in the next eight overs.
Van Niekerk brought herself on and had Maroof stumped for 10. Nain Abidi and Nahida, thereafter, put in the hard yards to add 63 for the fourth wicket and steady the ship, albeit with a bit of luck. Nahida was put down off a straightforward chance at long on by Khakha when on 22. Then on, she offered no more chances as she scored her half-century as South Africa were losing grip on proceedings, conceding easy singles and letting the batters get on top of them.
Abidi was stumped after Nahida’s fifty, but the latter carried on unperturbed to add 33 with Imtiaz. Nahida dispatched Ismail for a six over long on, following it up by a boundary, to punish the bowler for some poor bowling, also reaching Pakistan’s top score in a World Cup. The running between the wickets in that stand though was suicidal at various stages and it came as little surprise that it brought about Nahida’s fall eventually for 79 off 101.
South Africa spilled another chance with Imtiaz the beneficiary this time in the midst of successive maidens. It didn’t cost South Africa too much as she slogged straight to midwicket to break the shackles but lost her wicket for 13 instead. Asmavia Iqbal added 27 vital runs towards the end with Sana Mir (15) as Pakistan crossed the 200-run mark. However, South Africa would have had the chip on their shoulder after keeping Pakistan at least 30 short of what seemed plausible at one stage.
Brief scores: Pakistan 206/8 in 50 overs (Nahida Khan 79, Asmavia Iqbal 27; Moseline Daniels 2-21) lost to South Africa 207/7 in 49 overs (Lizelle Lee 60, Laura Wolvaardt 52; Sadia Yousuf 2-30) by 3 wickets.