South Africa 4 for 124 beat England 8 for 123 (Sciver 50, Khaka 3-25) by six wickets
In her 100th T20I, Mignon du Preez struck a six in the final over as South Africa held their nerve to secure just a third victory over England in the format in what could be a very significant result early in the World Cup.
It was a thrilling end to a chase that South Africa won and lost on multiple occasions in the closing stages, before it came down to needing nine off the last over bowled by Katherine Brunt. The first two balls went for singles before du Preez swung that six over fine leg then clubbed a sweep through square leg (which got to the boundary, but by then the batters had crossed for what was the winning run, so it counted as a single*) to set off wild South African celebrations.
The bulk of the chase was put together by a stand of 84 between captain Dane van Niekerk and Marizanne Kapp, but both fell in the space of five balls as England threatened to turn it around.
However, it was with the bat where England really let themselves down as they laboured to a total that, while not that far from being enough to win, was an unconvincing way to start their tournament except for Nat Sciver’s half-century. South Africa, though, were outstanding with the ball and, in the end, it did not go waste.
A dramatic final five
South Africa needed 34 off 28 balls when England hauled themselves back into the match through their spin twins Sophie Ecclestone and Sarah Glenn. Glenn had Kapp caught and bowled and in the next over, without a run added, the pressure told on van Niekerk as she sliced Ecclestone to point. England squeezed to such an extent that the target blew out to 33 off 18 balls. The 18th over, from Sciver, went for 14 to reignite South Africa’s hopes and when Chloe Tryon, who had struggled to middle the ball, cleared the fence off Ecclestone it came down to nine off eight. Amy Jones then missed a stumping chance only for Ecclestone to spear one through Tryon (who would have been lbw without scoring had England reviewed in the 17th over) meaning Brunt had nine to defend in the last. The third ball of the over was dropped short enough for du Preez to get far enough underneath it to clear the rope. Finally, that was the game.
Allrounders stand tall
Although for a moment it appeared their fine work would come to nothing, Kapp and van Niekerk had outstanding days. Kapp got South Africa up and running by ending a lively start from Jones in an exceptional display which included 12 dot balls across her four overs. With the bat she produced the shot of the match when she drove Brunt off the back through the off side on the final ball of the powerplay. Van Niekerk had gone for just five an over in four overs, without conceding a boundary, and claimed the key wicket of the in-form Heather Knight. While her innings was never quite at the tempo to emphatically put the chase to bed, she twice sent Anya Shrubsole for six and at the end of the contest could reflect on one of the better wins of her captaincy career.
Pace and variety
Shabnim Ismail only managed one wicket, when Brunt carved to third man, but her performance was another reminder of the priceless commodity of pace she brings to the South Africa attack. She clocked in at 125kph and regularly pushed 120kph, forcing the England batters back in their crease. As a whole, South Africa’s attack was always offering something different to contend with. It was a surprise to see left-arm spinner Nonkulueko Mlaba bowl the first over – and it cost nine as Jones started positively – but although she was the most expensive there wasn’t a weak link, to the extent that Sune Luus wasn’t even required.
Sciver salvages England
For a significant part of her innings, Sciver found the going as tricky as the rest of the England batting but crucially fought through and was there to catch up towards the end. From having 24 off 29 balls, she then collected 26 off her next 12 balls which included the lone six of the innings when she deposited Mlaba over wide long-on. She also brought out the scoop – a shot favoured by a few of the England batters – and her half-century came up off 40 balls. However, she was defeated by an excellent slower ball from Khaka which prevented her taking advantage of the final two overs. In a match of such fine margins, that could well have proved crucial.
*03.45GMT, February 24: The report was altered to reflect that the winning run was a single after the ICC confirmed the same