Match Analysis

Lanning lauds Australia's depth as World Cup favourites remain a class above the rest

Australia captain says opposition teams have "come hard at us, so we need to push back when needed"

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Meg Lanning - "Teams are coming hard at us when we're batting, (they're) trying to take some early wickets and put us under pressure"  •  ICC via Getty Images

Meg Lanning - "Teams are coming hard at us when we're batting, (they're) trying to take some early wickets and put us under pressure"  •  ICC via Getty Images

It's not as easy as it looks to be Australia at this Women's World Cup.
Although they have cruised to six wins from six matches, secured a semi-final spot with three games left to play, scored the highest total of the tournament and completed the two highest successful chases, Meg Lanning believes her team has been pushed to the limits.
"It's been a very challenging tournament so far," Lanning said after scoring a century that handed South Africa their first defeat of the tournament. "Teams are coming hard at us when we're batting, (they're) trying to take some early wickets and put us under pressure. They've been able to do that at times. We've been able to bat our way through that and post decent scores. That has been a really important part of our team - to make sure if it's not a couple people's day at the top of the order, that we've still got enough firepower there. The batters have had to work really hard. It's not easy out there with the new ball. You've got to get through that period. You can cash in at the back end but you've got to be there to be able to do that."
Australia have found themselves on 56 for 3 against New Zealand, and they eventually got to 269; at 58 for 3 against West Indies, chasing 132 and on 45 for 2, chasing 272 against South Africa. However, they've always had someone to put them back on track. Ellyse Perry's 68 and Tahlia McGrath's 57 did the job against New Zealand, Rachael Haynes' 83 not out sealed the win against West Indies and it was Lanning's 135* that took them to victory over South Africa, after a tough start.
Lanning scored eight runs off the first 16 balls she faced before edging Shabnim Ismail in the space between the wicket-keeper and first slip. A quicker reaction from Trisha Chetty could have ended Lanning's innings right there but she was let off and made it count. She went out to thread the ball through a packed offside field, pounce on anything short and take on South Africa' change bowlers. She was particularly severe on the spinners and Tumi Sekhukhune, who was playing her first match of the tournament. Lanning scored 49 runs off 44 balls against Chloe Tyron and Sune Luus, and 33 runs off 20 balls from Sekhukhune, as she concentrated on playing the ball as late as possible.
"It was as simple as hitting the ball a little bit later. (Previously), I was trying to force the ball a little bit when it wasn't quite there and it ended up with the ball going in the air. That's one of my strengths - I hit the ball really late and get the angles going on the offside," she said. "I also thought today I showed a bit more patience at the start, understanding the threats that were there with Ismail and (Marizanne) Kapp. I left a number of balls which was not normal for me but I felt like that was the way to play myself in. I think it was just about adjusting to the conditions."
Australia knew they needed someone to bat through to chase a competitive target of 272, but also knew they could have been faced with getting many more. South Africa were 209 for 2 at one stage, and could have been aiming at a score closer to 300 but Australia's strangling mid-innings effort and excellent fielding kept them under 275. "Over the last two games, we've kept two really good teams with wickets in hand to 270-odd when they have had a really good base," Lanning said.
India were 212 for 4 at a similar point to South Africa when they played Australia at the weekend but lost 3 for 65 in the last nine overs of their innings and were kept to under 280. "We've been able to go to plan Bs and Cs and restrict them when we can. We're going to have to continue to do that because teams come hard at us. They get up when they play against us. We're ready to absorb a bit of pressure and push back when we need to. It certainly hasn't been easy."


It's not as difficult as it looks to beat Australia.
Even though no one has managed it yet, Chloe Tryon doesn't "think the gap is too big" between a team like South Africa and a giant like Australia. In fact, she feels that South Africa were largely the architects of their own downfall.
"Australia is a quality side. They are the No.1 ranked team in the world for a reason. I felt we needed to be at our best today in the second half and we weren't," Tryon said. "We were really happy with the way we batted against them. I loved the intent. I still felt we could have done better in the field; backed up the bowlers in the field. It would have been a different story if we kept to the stumps and put a lot of pressure on them."
Apart from Ismail and Kapp, the rest of South Africa's bowlers conceded at over five runs an over and failed to maintain disciplined lengths on a good pitch, which Tryon said undid the good work of the batters.
"We couldn't have asked for a better start with the bat. We were happy with 270-plus. It's really good to see the girls take on the responsibility with the bat, but as bowlers we didn't back them up in the middle overs, too many loose balls both sides of the wicket."
South Africa also dropped four catches which undermined their efforts in defence of a score that was made to look too little but that Tryon insisted was challenging enough.
"I think 270-plus is a lot. If we could have taken those chances, we could put a lot of pressure on their order. We want to make sure that we take those chances," she said.
But even Tryon had to concede that South Africa might consider their total short, especially when looking at the way they approached the Australian spinners. Jess Jonassen, Ashleigh Gardner and Alana King bowled more than half the innings' overs between them - 27 - and conceded 139 runs which tied South Africa down through large sections of the innings.
"They are a very consistent team. With the ball, it was really tough and we found ways to score runs," Tryon said. "When they came out, they came out with really good intent, and you want that as players. We take a lot from them and make sure we can take that into our next game."
While Tryon said Laura Wolvaardt provided the blueprint for South Africa's batters with her fourth successive half-century, her strike rate of 67.16 was well below Lanning's 103.84 and South Africa lack the middle-order muscle Australia have. Their No.3 and 5 positions are of particular concern with neither Tazmin Brits nor Lara Goodall providing enough at one-drop and Mignon du Preez struggling to get out of the teens. She has not crossed 20 in nine ODIs this year.
That may ultimately be where the gap lay in this match and though the result is inconsequential for Australia, it puts South Africa in a potentially tricky situation situation against West Indies or India. It may not be as straightforward to get to the semi-finals as they hoped.
"We've got two important games coming up against West Indies and India," Tryon said. "We'll have to make sure we bounce back."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent