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April 8, 2014
The South Africa Women's team that participated at the World T20 had never played a televised match before their semi-final against England. For the first time, people at home could "see that we can also play cricket and what we can do" as Mignon du Preez said.
They had also never been to a hostile press engagement before they arrived home from Bangladesh. Du Preez and coach Hilton Moreeng were seated next to Faf du Plessis and Russell Domingo at the teams' arrival and their eyes grew wider with anxiety as they heard their male counterparts being grilled.
Domingo had to explain his use of AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn and respond to criticism from former players while du Plessis was just another captain who returned empty-handed. Sympathy was in short supply and the ladies had reason to be nervous. Du Preez quickly played down the team's television debut given the nature of their defeat. "Unfortunately we didn't have our best game but hopefully we'll learn. This is just the start."
Despite five run-outs and their hefty nine-wicket defeat in the knockouts, the women were forgiven much quicker than the men and with good reason. Not only had they never been to a World T20 semi-final before but they are working off a base which has only just started to accumulate resources.
Just six months ago, the team received corporate sponsorship which allowed for six members of the squad to be contracted and a full-time coach to be brought on board. Du Preez is one of the half a dozen on the books but explained that even some of those with contracts have to maintain other jobs.
What the financial backing has done is allowed for more game time. Instead of going an entire winter without a fixture or, as they did between 2009 and 2010, a full 12 months without playing, the team went through a rigorous program in the lead up to the World T20.
They hosted Bangladesh and Sri Lanka at the beginning of this season in September and October, and then spent January in Doha playing in a triangular tournament against Pakistan and Ireland. Of those matches, they won three ODIs and three T20s against Bangladesh, two ODIs and two T20s out of three each against Sri Lanka and three out four ODIs in the Doha tournament, including the final and three out of five T20s before they lost the final to Pakistan.
"It was a very good season for us. The players improved and we were ready for the World T20," Moreeng said. That was evident when South Africa got their own back when they beat Pakistan by 44 runs in the tournament opener. "We were not even spoken about as a team that could challenge but then we showed we mean business."
A big win over Ireland and victory over a much-fancied New Zealand side meant set up a place in the final four but they had earlier come unstuck against Australia. Following their semi-final defeat to England, it is obvious where South Africa lie as far as the global women's game is concerned.
Du Preez recognised that the professional set-ups in Australia and England have created a gulf between them and the rest but believes South Africa could catch up on the back of their World T20 success. "They started the processes [of contracting players] a little earlier so I think we are now where they were two or three years ago," she said. "Hopefully this will start things for us. We also want to be in a position where we can compete and do it full time."
Although South Africa's defeats to both finalists were by substantial margins Moreeng said he saw the team could "compete even against the top teams, who we only play once every few years." South Africa last played England in a home series in 2011 but they have never had a bilateral engagement against Australia. They are due to visit England again this September for three T20s which will all be on television.
Far from that being a potential source of stage fright, Moreeng welcomes it as a chance to embrace the spotlight. "We will improve with more games, especially where there is an opportunity to have televised matches because we never play in front of those kinds of crowds. It's good for us."
And they may even start to get recognised by a few more people. "We can see women's cricket is starting to become a little more serious. When we were on the flight home we had people saying they'd seen us play and asking us questions," du Preez said. "There were some people who didn't even know a women's cricket team existed. So these are very exciting times for South African cricket."
Even those still stewing over another trophy-less tournament would agree.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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