Ice-cool bowling under immense pressure has enabled Australia to advance to Sunday’s Twenty20 World Cup final after a nail-biting five-run win over South Africa.
Faced with the prospect of defending 27 runs from 12 balls, Megan Schutt ((2-17) and then Jess Jonassen (1-28) kept their cool as the Laura Wolvaardt-led South Africa threatened to steal an unlikely win in the rain-shortened match at the SCG on Thursday night.
Wolvaardt had come to the crease at 3-24, but unleashed an array of stunning strokes in her unbeaten innings of 41 from 27 balls to give the Proteas a glimmer of hope.
South Africa finished at 5-92, having been set a revised target of 98 from 13 overs under the Duckworth-Lewis method.
— ICC (@ICC) March 5, 2020
The rain loomed to disappoint fans and players alike.
Initially delayed by 25 minutes, the match was held up for 38 minutes between innings, before players returned to the field nine minutes before play was set to be called off.
Proteas captain Dane van Niekerk sportingly said it was better to have played a shortened game and lost than to receive a free pass.
“I would rather lose than get a free pass into the World Cup final,” van Niekerk said.
“I’m not going to sit here and lie and say we didn’t think about (the weather). But we were here to play cricket.
“It’s very upsetting. The team is quite distraught. It’s the second time we have come really close in a semi-final. Everyone is hurting.”
LET'S FILL THE MCG, AUSTRALIA! pic.twitter.com/txLh5LP3iy
— Australian Women's Cricket Team 🏏 (@AusWomenCricket) March 5, 2020
Earlier, captain Meg Lanning proved the difference as her run-a-ball 49 guided her side to a competitive total of 5-134.
Nadine de Klerk (3-19) was the key bowler for the Proteas, ably assisted by Nonkululeko Mlaba (1-18).
But it was the 27-year-old Lanning, who now has the chance to equal Lyn Larsen (1988) and Michael Clarke (2015) as the only captains to win a World Cup on home soil, who posted her highest score of this Twenty20 World Cup to steady the ship.
“I’m pretty relieved,” captain Meg Lanning admitted.
“I love winning and I want to help us win as much as I can. It was a grind today. I don’t think I ever really got going,” Lanning said.
“It’s not my most fluent knock, but it was nice to be able to contribute.
“Pretty relieved, excited at the opportunity that is coming up … it’s certainly up there (with the most stressful days of her career).”
The victory enables Australia to defend its title against India in the decider at the MCG from 6pm on Sunday.
It also keeps alive organisers’ hopes of a record crowd of more than 90,000 at the MCG for the final.
Meanwhile, the thriller came only hours after the first semi-final was abandoned without play, with India advancing over England.
Play was scheduled to start at 3pm in Sydney but the heavy covers remained in place at 4.08pm, when umpires gave up hope of staging a shortened contest.
England captain Heather Knight said her side’s exit was “sad for the tournament”, emphasising that no team should suffer the same fate at future World Cups.
“They’re the rules that everyone signed up to … ([but] you’d hope now there is going to be a rule change,” Knight said.
“The weather has cost us. It’ll be nice not to have the jokes about English weather now … that’s one positive.
“It’s gutting. You put in a lot of hard work … we’re just going to have to rue that first game and try to move on, but it’s going to be a bitter pill to swallow.”
Mark Waugh tweeted it was absurd the ICC did not have “reserve days for finals in the biggest tournament of the year and possibly lifetime for many players”.