Proteas women gaining belief in pursuit of history

Mignon du Preez (right) and Sune Luus celebrate (Getty).
Mignon du Preez (right) and Sune Luus celebrate (Getty).

Cape Town - There is still a long way to go, but South Africa's final over victory against England in their opening match of the Women's T20 World Cup in Perth on Sunday was a massive statement of intent.

The Proteas have never competed in a World Cup final, in T20 or ODI cricket, and that is very much the aim in 2020 – for both the men and the women.  

Led by captain Dane van Niekerk, player of the match on Sunday, this side is looking to achieve what their male counterparts have been unable to in 28 years of international cricket. 

The Proteas women have played in 11 World cups of their own - six 50-over and five T20 - and have also never reached a tournament final despite semi-final appearances in 2000 and 2017 in the 50-over format and in 2014's T20 World Cup.

The struggles of the men's side in major ICC tournaments, meanwhile, is well-documented with them having lost four 50-over World Cup semi-finals and two T20 World Cup semi-finals since 1992. 

For such a proud and talented cricketing nation, those returns on the biggest stages are difficult to understand. 

With Sunday's win over England, though, the Proteas women took a significant step towards qualifying for the semi-finals in Australia. 

"It's crucial for us," Mignon du Preez told media in Perth after seeing her side home with the bat.  

"We've always known how strong we are and that we've got match winners and we know we've got one of the best bowling attacks in the world.

"We haven't always shown what we're capable of. We had a monkey on our back, but it's now done and dusted, and I think this will give us the boost we need."

The monkey that Du Preez was referring to was South Africa having lost to England in all of their last seven meetings at ICC tournaments before Sunday. 

"There have been a few nightmares in the past but to finally put that behind us and move on is really exciting," she said. 

This South African side, on their day, can mix it with the world's best. 

Their batting is strong with Lizelle Lee one of the most dangerous openers in the women's game while allrounders Van Niekerk and Marizanne Kapp are world class, as they showed on Sunday. Van Niekerk returned figures of 2/20 (4) and followed that up with 46 (51) with the bat while Kapp took 2/19 (4) and made 38 (33) coming in at No 3. 

While the form of that pair will be crucial to any success South Africa has at this tournament, there are other match winners in big-hitting finisher Chloe Tryon and seamer Shabnim Ismail. 

The Proteas have moved on from being a promising young side to a side rich in experience, talent and, perhaps most importantly, belief. 

"We've decided that we know we're good enough and we just have to play and enjoy it," Du Preez, who was playing in her 100th T20, said.

"This is a wonderful opportunity. It's the biggest women's World Cup that there has been so far, and this is just a time for us to use our talents and enjoy."

In a thrilling finish, South Africa went into the last over against England, who were one of the pre-tournament favourites, needing 9 runs for victory. 

The composed nature in which they finished the match, with Du Preez (15* off 11) launching Katherine Brunt over square leg for six in the fourth ball of the over, was a sign of the belief this side has. 

"There were nerves," Du Preez acknowledged.

"I just had to breathe, take some time and tell myself that I'm good enough.

"I've played 100 games ... enough games in my career to step up in crucial moments and to finally do that and contribute to the team is really special.

"I actually thought it just went up and I kind of held my breath for a little bit."

Next up for the Proteas is a clash against Thailand on Friday while Pakistan and the West Indies are the other sides in their group. 

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