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Feature

South Africa makes itself heard at loudest Cape Town party

They lost the final, but won everything else, as a rich and diverse crowd treated themselves to a memorable evening at Newlands

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
26-Feb-2023
Chloe Tryon celebrates with the crowd after taking a low-catch to remove Meg Lanning  •  AFP/Getty Images

Chloe Tryon celebrates with the crowd after taking a low-catch to remove Meg Lanning  •  AFP/Getty Images

Now, South Africans know what it feels like. To get to a final. And to lose one. They tried, they thrilled and in the end, they were tripped up by a team that is simply much better than anyone else in this game. There's no shame in being defeated like that.
Ask any one of the 12,782 people who were at Newlands on Sunday afternoon and they will tell you the experience was unlike any other at a sporting event in South Africa. For a start, there have never been that many people at a women's match, in any sporting code, in this country and crowds are seldom as diverse or involved as they were today.
In attendance was the who's who of South African sport including Francois Pienaar and Siya Kolisi - both Springbok World Cup winning captains - and Desiree Ellis - coach of the continental champion national women's football team. Also, at the ground were the winners of CSA's newly created girls Under-19 national championship - essentially a school's competition - which completed its inaugural tournament yesterday. To have those who have seen it all and those who are dreaming of it all watching this team speaks to their sporting appeal. To have everyone else, tells the story of how they have inspired a nation.
Beyond the recognisable faces, there were thousands of ordinary South Africans, who turned up to live every ball. Many of them were moms with their daughters, who may have seen something that will drive them to take up the sport; something like possibility and something else, like an invitation. Seasoned Newlands attendees called this the most inclusive crowd they've experienced at a game in this country in race, class, culture and age terms, and they were truly together, unified in delight and hope.
The yo-yo of those feelings ranged from the disbelief that a South African side that dropped their regular captain and lost the tournament opener made it to the final, to the expectation that maybe they could go one step further, and the crowd lived every ball. When South Africa were bowling, they cheered every dot. Hometown hero Shabnim Ismail's six dots in a row were greeted with gusto of wickets. Later, the whole grass embankment was literally and figuratively behind Chloe Tryon when she took the running catch at deep square leg. She turned to them with open arms and if they could have, they would all have leapt into them for a massive group hug.
They were patient when Laura Wolvaardt and Tazmin Brits struggled through South Africa's lowest powerplay return of the tournament - 22 for 1 - and it paid off. Wolvaardt, also a Cape Town local, showed off a glorious selection of shots down the ground. Her chef's kiss was the six she hit off Georgia Wareham at the end of the 14th over, which kept South Africa in it, but only just.
Realistically, chasing 157 against Australia was always going to be tough. Not only have South Africa never won a T20I against Australia but they have only successfully chased scores of over 150 five times before. They had also never been in a situation where the stakes were as high and no matter how much support they got, from the crowd and an increasingly animated Kolisi, it needed more than that. It needed the kind of game smarts that Australia have developed in their DNA and which South Africa will also gain, if the legacy of this World Cup runs true to form.
The upshot of South Africa's performance should not only be more investment into the game but a greater commitment to improving the domestic structure. The first step will be to fully professionalise cricket at that level and create depth in the talent pool; the next will be to look at a T20 league. Those are all considerations for the future, once this tournament and the performances South Africa put on have been digested, and once they realise how very proud of themselves they can be.
Many teams that reach a final unexpectedly have already played their best game in the semis. In beating England - a team they have lost three semi-finals to - South Africa could easily have fallen into that trap and completely faded away. They didn't. They put on a brave, competitive performance and fired a warning shot about how much more there is to come.
Still, on the day and in the moment, it hurt. Just like Marizanne Kapp could not hold back a flood of tears at anthem time, and you would have struggled to find a dry eye at Newlands as 'Nkosi Sikel' iafrika was sung, Tryon let hers run as soon as Australia's victory was confirmed. Happily, they did not last too long. By the time the post-match presentation took place, South Africa had composed themselves. They accepted their medals with smiles, they watched Australia receive the trophy and then they did a hesitant but necessary lap around the ground, to say goodbye to those who remained behind to cheer them. There were many.
On the grass embankment, a South African flag fluttered in the breeze and a sizeable group of fans greeted their best-performing white-ball team with warmth and love. South Africa lost the final, but they won everything else.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket