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Feature

South Africa secure atonement as Paarl warms to the World Cup party

Hosts make up for failings against Sri Lanka to give home support a night to remember

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
13-Feb-2023
South Africa attacked the powerplay with vigour to atone for their limp loss in Newlands  •  ICC/Getty Images

South Africa attacked the powerplay with vigour to atone for their limp loss in Newlands  •  ICC/Getty Images

South Africa knew South Africans deserved better than the performance they put on in the World Cup opener at Newlands.
They said so privately, at a team meeting they held immediately after their three-run loss when they discussed "everything and decided we'll leave it there," as Chloe Tryon revealed and they said it publicly, with an emotionally-charged tweet from Marizanne Kapp that read almost like an apology.
"We spoke about it just after the game. We sat up in the changing-room and we spoke about everything and we said we'll leave it here," Tryon added. "We have a quick turnaround and we know we've got to go and make sure that we're doing the right things. Everyone came with the mindset that today we're just working really hard."
Everyone including the Paarl faithful. Even though they numbered little more than half the 8,000-plus that turned up in Cape Town for the first match, they made more of an impression with a passionate display of patriotism that started on the grass banks and ended in the president suite with a group of women singing a victory cry to the tune of Bonnie Tyler's "It's a heartache". That may sound confusing, but you need to hear the lyrics. So hum the tune in your head and sing (with translation):
"It's an SA ding (It's a South African thing)
'n lekker lekker SA ding (A very nice South African thing)
Ons sal nie worry nie (we're not worried)
Want ons gaan wen (because we're going to win)."
They could belt that out at the end, but for large parts of the match, South Africans were fairly worried.
Their top four continue to struggle, both with the fluency of their run-scoring and their ability to form partnerships. Captain Suné Luus is the only one to have passed 20 - and she's done so in both matches - and they appear to be over-reliant on a middle-order that may still come to regret not having Dané van Niekerk or Mignon du Preez in it.
Enter Chloe Tryon.
The team's vice-captain warmed up for the tournament with a series-winning half-century - her first in T20I cricket - against India and has accepted the responsibility of finishing innings. They want someone in the top four or five to bat as deep as possible and today that was Tryon. She arrived in the seventh over, and was dismissed at the end of the 19th. "We need to bat longer, get those partnerships and bat to the end," she said. "I still felt the way we were getting out was a bit silly. It's just small things for us."
Tryon admitted that she thought South Africa were 15 to 20 runs short and the SA20 first-innings par score of 150.4 this summer would agree with her. Those numbers, however, know nothing about the way South Africa took the field.
With the day's last light fading and the temperatures cool enough for people to sit comfortably on the grass banks, South Africa defended their under-par total with "fire burning in everyone".
They also made the right decisions. On a slow, dry, turning track, Luus went back to left-arm spinner Nonkululeko Mlaba, who had opened the bowling 18 times in the 22 matches she had played prior to the World Cup opener, but was dispensed with at Newlands. She put in a career-best performance with two wickets upfront and one in her return spell to underline why she is the No.2-ranked bowler in the world. "I like how she sets the tone with the ball," Tryon said. "I feel like as a unit, we really thrive off that. I'm happy to see that she's doing so well. She's 22 years old, a young girl, so it's really nice to see her blossoming in front of me."
Apart from Mlaba, South Africa were also energetic and uncompromising in the field. Behind the stumps, Sinalo Jafta took every chance she got and in the outfield, bodies were thrown around in what seemed like desperation to not let the hope of a semi-final spot slip away.
"If you looked at our tri-series before this, our fielding started off really well and we kind of let it slip towards the end," Tryon said. "And then warm-up games as well, we still felt that we could have done a little bit more in the field. In the Sri Lanka game, we had about 25 - 30 runs that went past us. So we said just put bodies on the line."
All three of South Africa's WPL buys showed their worth with the ball as Shabnim Ismail, Kapp and Tryon shared five wickets between them and exploited a New Zealand line-up that has yet to come up with its best combinations. "We didn't go searching for anything. I just think we bowled really well and it just came," Tryon said.
As for the Paarl crowd, who cheered the team off the field with a spirit that said the World Cup dream remains alive, Tryon had these words: "I've always loved to play in front of people. We're playing in front of our home crowd and to have that backing, to have the supporters out there watching women's cricket, is amazing to see. They were with us every single ball, which is fantastic. And we're happy that we can get that win for them today."
Boland Park got some of what Newlands deserved and St George's Park will hope for the rest. South Africa's next opponents are Australia and it's another crucial game. "We know we have to play our best," Tryon said. "We want to win it. We want to go into Bangladesh very confident and have a big crowd as well with the band playing."
Over to you, Gqeberha.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent