Few teams have had more contrasting paths to the semi-finals than Australia and South Africa. The hosts have been a walking news cycle of dramas, unexpected twists and, in the case of Ellyse Perry’s hamstring injury, sporting tragedy, all while dealing with the enormous expectations of fulfilling their favourites tag and making it to the final on Sunday at the MCG. For South Africa it has been a far quieter, smoother path, winning three consecutive matches to breeze into the semi-finals then qualifying first in their group thanks to a washout.
That same weather now offers South Africa one of two viable pathways to the tournament decider. As the higher ranked qualifying team, they will make the final if a match cannot be completed at the SCG on Thursday night, an irony that won’t be lost on members of the men’s South African side who were on the wrong side of a rain-shortened World Cup semi-final at the MCG in the 1992 ODI World Cup.
Then again, they have the option of simply beating Meg Lanning’s team although this is a rather more complicated assignment for Dane van Niekerk’s side, given that they have never won a T20 World Cup match against Australia in four attempts. So while any team would prefer to win their way through to a tournament final by being victorious in a contest, the damage Australia did to themselves by starting the event with a loss to India, plus the vagaries of the World Cup’s rules around reserve days and the minimum overs required for a result are very much in South Africa’s favour.
Australia WWWLW (completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa WWWLW
In the spotlight
Throughout this tournament, Ash Gardner has struggled to impose herself while also looking capable of doing so at a key moment. Against India she was humbugged by the collapse of wickets all around her, and after falling early to the swinging ball in Perth, she made a couple of decent starts against Bangladesh and New Zealand. As critical as her ability to swing freely and powerfully for the fences will be an improvement in Gardner’s offspin bowling, which has looked eminently hittable thus far, and will likely be leaned on further in Perry’s absence.
Arguably no individual innings of this World Cup has been better than Laura Wolvaardt‘s slamming 53 from 36 balls against Pakistan, not only as an example of finishing off an innings in resounding and match-winning style, but also as an example of a cricketer finding another level at precisely the right moment. A career strike rate of around a run a ball in T20Is did not suggest that Wolvaardt would have been capable of such a feat, but in doing so she added depth to South Africa’s lineup in a way that Australia have always considered a strength.
Lacking Perry’s all-round skills and middle-order presence, Australia can either choose an extra bowler, perhaps of the spin-bowling variety, or draft in the vastly experienced Delissa Kimmince who offers sturdy mediums and handy runs too.
Australia (possible): 1 Beth Mooney, 2 Alyssa Healy (wk), 3 Meg Lanning (capt), 4 Ashleigh Gardner, 5 Rachael Haynes, 6 Annabel Sutherland, 7 Nicola Carey, 8 Delissa Kimmince, 9 Georgia Wareham, 10 Jess Jonassen 11 Megan Schutt
Having sailed much more comfortably into the semi-finals than Australia, it is hard to see South Africa looking past the XI that beat Pakistan comfortably in Sydney three days ago although they continue to monitor the health of Marizanne Kapp who has been struggling with a respiratory tract infection.
South Africa (probable): 1 Lizelle Lee, 2 Dane van Niekerk (capt), 3 Marizanne Kapp, 4 Mignon du Preez, 5 Laura Wolvaardt, 6 Sune Luus, 7 Chloe Tryon, 8 Trisha Chetty (wk), 9 Shabnim Ismail, 10 Ayabonga Khaka, 11 Nonkululeko Mlaba
Pitch and conditions
Sydney’s surfaces typically offer more spin the longer a season goes on, but the amount of rain around the city this week may also bring some moisture and the odd tuft of live grass into play.
The weather forecast is for some patches of fine weather amongst the showers, though it remains to be seen whether there will be enough for a game to be completed.
Stats and trivia
South Africa have never beaten Australia in four previous T20 World Cup meetings, starting in 2009
The SCG has previously hosted two women’s T20I matches, both won by Australia, in 2009 against New Zealand and in 2016 against India
Not since the first women’s T20 World Cup in England in 2009 has the host nation reached the final