South Africa picked up their expected victory over the Netherlands at Hagley Oval today on the sixth day of the CricInfo Women's World Cup but not without a searching examination of their ability to keep their minds on the job. Apparent difficiencies in that area nearly cost them dearly.
The Netherlands continued the practice of the less-favoured teams, if they win the toss, to accept the challenge of withstanding any life in the pitch. The return of the opener Maartje Koster, although clearly still hampered by an injury, saw her team off to their best start, accumulating at just under three an over for the first 20 overs with the loss of only two wickets.
Koster attacked the bowling at every opportunity and deserved better than her 36, a leg injury constraining her from take a number of quick runs on offer.
With the Netherlands gaining some ascendency, the situation required some South African heroics, and they came in the form of two players making their first appearances at the tournament, Levona Lewis and Nolubabalo Ndzundzu bowling their medium pace in tandem.
Left armer Lewis produced the figures of the match, four for 20 off 8.3 overs, including the prize wicket of Koster. But it was the inexperienced Ndzundzu (two for 16 off 10) who impressed coach Rodney Willemberg. He said she bowled to instructions, forcing the Netherlands batsmen onto the back foot and she and the team reaped the benefits.
As a result of their efforts, the Netherlands batting effort crumbled. They were unable to repeat their defensive achievements of their first two matches against higher rated teams, going from 68 for three with the departure of Koster in the 26th over to 92 all out in the 38th. The last four wickets fell with no addition to the score, the right arm medium pace of Helen Davies accounting for two of the last three wickets in her only over.
It was a very good return for the South Africans after they initially appeared to going through the motions. Their reward was an immediate return to the middle after the early finish of the Netherlands innings. And they gave every sign of wrapping the match up without any traumas when they went to lunch after the 12th over at 52 for two, courtesy of an aggressive 32 by the number three, Sunette Viljoen.
What each side had for lunch will remain a mystery but they came out like very different teams. The Netherlands played as if they were about to win, the South Africans seemed to have lost the plot and suddenly it was 67 for five. In the end, accurate bowling by Cheraldine Oudolf (three for 30 off 10), smart work behind the stumps by Rowan Milburn (a name well-known to New Zealanders through the efforts of her wicket-keeper father Barry) all supported by often courageous fielding was not enough.
The rock of the South African innings was the opener and keeper, Daleen Terblanche (37 not out), who remained firm when wickets were falling around her, a resolute performance that earned her the CricInfo Player of the Match award.
South Africa eventually reached their target in the 27th over for the loss of six wickets but it was a performance that left coach Willemberg shaking his head. He was quite happy to agree with the rugby cliche that it was a game of two halves.
Without taking anything away from the Netherlands' commitment, he said, "We drop our levels down to those of the opposition." There was a tendency, he said, to lose focus. "They expected it to just happen. It was only after the 15th over that they started to put the work in."
Similarly with the batting. "It was too easy before lunch. They must up their concentration."
This was a match that he would go away from just relieved that his team had picked up the two points.
The Netherlands coach, Greg Curtain, was a much happier man.
His team, he said, "won't lie down for anyone."
It was good to see his bowlers coming into form, the fielding had been good and the batting had had its best start. "When we get all phases right, we will give some teams a fright."
He had particular praise for the innings from Koster. But the effort by everyone right to the end of the match demonstrated their character and team spirit.
Now if they could just put together around 150 . . . .
The result: The Netherlands, 92; South Africa, 96 for six. A win to South Africa by four wickets but only after a searching examination through which they came with a scratchy pass.
The Netherlands' next match is against New Zealand on Wednesday; South Africa have a break until Friday when they take on Sri Lanka.