Pressure on England to do the running
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Start time 1030 local (0930 GMT)
Four years ago, the possibility of England playing South Africa in a semi-final would've been scoffed at. But South Africa are here, and that is thanks to their consistent bowling performances and the format itself - seven straight games for each team to leave an imprint.
Dane van Niekerk and her team-mates have played a brand of cricket that has been reminiscent of West Indies in 2013, injecting fresh flavour into the tournament, celebrating every win with gusto. South Africa took the qualifier route to get here and the benefit of having a settled team - they've been playing together since February - has been apparent. By the time they landed in England, every player knew exactly what was expected of her.
England, meanwhile, are in a cocoon outside of training sessions and media commitments. They have even made efforts to log off social media distractions. Heather Knight and her team have the weight of expectation on them, because they are favourites, a well-earned tag after their six clinical and successive victories since losing the opening game to India.
The batsmen have been especially dominant. Concerns over Sarah Taylor's form, after she took much of 2016 out to deal with anxiety issues, were emphatically brushed aside when these two teams had met in the group stages. The England wicketkeeper struck a regal 147 off 104 balls with no less than 24 fours. Natalie Sciver, amid scoring tons of runs, has also introduced the 'Natmeg' - a flick between the legs to yorker-length deliveries. And opener Tammy Beaumont is the tournament's leading run-getter with 372 of them.
But if there's one attack that's capable of stopping England's juggernaut, it's South Africa's. In Marizanne Kapp and van Niekerk, they have two bowlers who have combined to take 27 wickets, much more than the cream of England's attack. On form, this is, therefore, a clash of equals, although the pressure of being hosts could weigh on England's mind.
England WWWWW (completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
At her menacing best, Anya Shrubsole can be a threat on any surface. In this tournament, however, wickets have been a struggle for England's vice-captain. Five in seven games is a reflection of how batsmen have taken note of her threat and negated it by looking to play her out. She will, however, have fond memories of the last semi-final against South Africa, at the World T20 in 2014, when she took 2 for 12 in an incisive opening burst to seal the game.
Her contributions haven't attracted the same attention, but it's a direct acknowledgement of how tidy Trisha Chetty has been behind the stumps. Against Sri Lanka last week, she rose to the top of the list for most dismissals (134) by a wicketkeeper in Women's ODIs. With 97 ODIs under her belt, she'd want to get as close to that milestone of 100 right here at the Women's World Cup.
Lauren Winfield's form at the top is a concern, but, barring injuries, England are unlikely to make too many changes for a knockout game.
England: (possible) 1 Lauren Winfield, 2 Tammy Beaumont, 3 Sarah Taylor (wk), 4 Heather Knight (capt), 5 Natalie Sciver, 6 Fran Wilson, 7 Katherine Brunt, 8 Jenny Gunn, 9 Laura Marsh, 10 Anya Shrubsole, 11 Alex Hartley
South Africa are likely to bring back Chloe Tryon, a big-hitter who can also bowl seam up. Her services were missed in the loss to Australia. As such medium-pacer Masabata Klaas could find herself out.
South Africa: (possible) 1 Laura Wolvaardt, 2 Lizelle Lee, 3 Trisha Chetty (wk), 4 Mignon du Preez, 5 Marizanne Kapp, 6 Sune Luus, 7 Dane van Niekerk (capt), 8 Chloe Tryon, 9 Shabnim Ismail, 10 Ayabonga Khaka, 11 Moseline Daniels
Pitch and conditions
The league game between these two sides in Bristol produced 678 runs. This is a televised game, a semi-final at that, and the ICC, over the years, have focused on making such games more marketable. So expect a good bating surface.
Stats and trivia
- Four England players have scored 250 runs or more in this tournament. It is the most among all teams - Beaumont (372), Heather Knight (333), Sciver (315), Taylor (297).
- South Africa's only semi-final appearance came 17 years ago. They lost to Australia by nine wickets then
- England have won 26 out of the 34 meetings between the two sides.
"I came into the World Cup thinking I had the best opening attack in the world, at the moment I am starting to believe I have the best bowling attack."
South Africa captain Dane Van Niekerk
"We prepared a little bit differently, there was a different vibe around the group. A few people did things they wouldn't usually do on cricket, field, but that's international cricket. And I think we have learnt a lot from that. We've done a lot of work on how we deal with that pressure, we've made it normal to feel pressure. And that kind of open honesty helps "
England captain Heather Knight
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo