Proteas

Survivors of 2017 heartache, Proteas Women eye history

Dane van Niekerk (Getty)
Dane van Niekerk (Getty)

When the Proteas take on Australia in the semi-finals of the T20 Women's World Cup in Sydney on Thursday, they will do so with almost the exact same side that was left heartbroken at the 50-over World Cup in 2017. 

The side that lost that semi-final to England with just two balls to spare in Bristol included skipper Dane van Niekerk, Lizelle Lee, Laura Wolvaardt, Mignon du Preez, Marizanne Kapp, Sune Luus, Trisha Chetty, Chloe Tryon, Shabnim Ismail and Ayabonga Khaka. 

All 10 of those players are expected to start Thursday's semi-final against the Aussies, though Kapp has been battling a virus and a decision on her availability will only be taken on matchday. 

It is a quite remarkable statistic and one that goes a long way towards explaining how this side has grown together in recent years. 

Van Niekerk acknowledged that the Proteas were still "babies" compared to their more fancied hosts, but there is an undeniable belief that has been brewing within this group for some time now and, on Thursday, it will need to translate into a seriously impressive performance. 

As individuals, the Proteas have improved since 2017 and, as a group, they have quietly gone about becoming a force in the women's game. 

No South African side - men or women - has ever contested a senior World Cup final, in any format. Van Niekerk and her charges, who were left in a heap of tears on that Bristol turf nearly three years ago, have an opportunity to make history. 

The significance of that achievement could never be overstated given this country's past at major tournaments, but Van Niekerk's Proteas are approaching Thursday with a calm-headedness that comes with having been in a situation like this before. 

"We carry our country on our shoulders, but tomorrow I just want us to focus on us," the skipper told Sport24 from Sydney on Wednesday.

"The work has been done. You could hit 10 million balls today and it won't change the outcome tomorrow. It's just about us believing in ourselves and what we've been doing and hopefully we come out on top."

Still just 26, Van Niekerk was just a child when South Africa's World Cup despair reached new lows in 1999 and she was not born yet when, in their first World Cup, the Proteas were drowned out by the rain in their semi-final against England in 1992. 

"I was 100% sure we had a final somewhere," she laughed.

"We don't want to get ahead of ourselves. We want to take every game the same way and tomorrow is nothing different.

"We'll think about the significance of everything afterwards."

What the Proteas achieved at the 2017 50-over World Cup was astonishing because it was so unexpected. That, however, is no longer the case. This is now a side littered with match winners, and for many of them this journey of redemption started in Bristol.

"We learnt a lot that day and we've learnt a lot since then," Van Niekerk said.

"I'm quietly confident in this side and if I wasn't, I should probably be at home now.

"We've come a long way as a team. We've come from nowhere to being one of the teams to beat at this competition.

"We're just going to focus on ourselves and on each ball that comes our way."

Play on Thursday starts at 10:00 (SA time).

Dane van Niekerk after the 2017 World Cup semi-fin

Dane van Niekerk after the 2017 World Cup semi-final (Getty Images) ...

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