Winfield best helps England complete sweep
England Women 126 for 6 (Winfield 74) beat South Africa Women 118 for 6 (van Niekerk 35) by eight runs
A career-best innings from Lauren Winfield helped England Women complete a 3-0 whitewash of South Africa in the NatWest T20 series.
Winfield, who had not reached 40 in her previous 19 international innings, demonstrated timing and power in making 74 from 60 balls. If the most memorable stroke was a heave over midwicket for six, the most impressive shot was a perfectly timed square drive through point off Shabnim Ismail that brought one of her nine fours.
England were grateful for the contribution. With Charlotte Edwards suffering a rare failure, caught off the leading edge as she tried to hit an outswinger through midwicket, the somewhat brittle middle-order was exposed for the first time in the series and, Winfield apart, no-one else reached 20.
But if Winfield provided the bulk of England's total, they were equally grateful for the outstanding fielding of Lydia Greenway and Nat Sciver for sealing the win.
South Africa appeared to be on course for a first victory in 11 completed T20s against England after an opening stand of 59. But Sciver and Greenway conjured wickets from successive balls as South Africa lost their way in the last five overs.
First Marizanne Kapp was run-out by Sciver's direct hit from the long-on boundary - an outstanding, flat throw that just beat Kapp's despairing drive - before captain Mignon du Preez was brilliantly caught by Greenway, running to her left and leaping to cling on to a ball that had looked as if it was heading over the midwicket boundary.
But if South Africa were not quite able to pull-off a memorable victory, they will take a huge amount of confidence from this performance. Earlier this year they were thrashed by nine-wickets by the same opposition in the semi-final of the World T20 and lost the first match of this series by the same margin.
But they are clearly improving rapidly. Just a few months after appointing their first full time coach and the entire squad becoming professional, they showed a huge amount of potential in this performance. Not only did seamers such as Kapp - who has an uncannily similar action to Shaun Tait - and Ismail bowl with greater pace than any of the England seamers, but legspinning allrounder Dane van Niekerk, whose run out attempting an optimistic single may well have been the turning point of the game, looked one of the most outstanding players on display and the team lost nothing at all in comparison with England in terms of their fitness and the athleticism of their fielding. If that improvement continues, they may well challenge in global competitions within the next few years.
"We're disappointed to lose 3-0, but we can see real improvement," Kapp told the BBC afterwards. "We are learning every game we play."
England deserve credit for holding their nerve under pressure. With South Africa punishing the out-of-sorts seamers Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole, England's spinners - Danielle Hazell and Heather Knight - bowled with good control and put the batsmen under pressure. As the run-rate rose, the relatively inexperienced South African line-up lacked the requisite composure and three run-outs and a stumping - a superb piece of work by Sarah Taylor standing-up to Brunt - were the result.
But question marks remain for England. Winfield and Edwards apart, no England player contributed an innings of more than 21 in the series and, while Greenway and Nat Sciver look exceptionally good in the field, several of their team-mates have a great deal of room for improvement.
While England's international season is now over - they do not play again until they go to New Zealand in February - South Africa play three more T20s against Ireland in Solihull next week.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo