Women’s T20 World Cup Final – South Africa ready to face the mighty Australia
It is no secret that any opponent of Meg Lanning’s Australia is the underdog.
Australia will be playing in their seventh Women’s T20 World Cup final on Sunday, having won five of them already.
Meanwhile, the hosts are in alien territory, as South Africa prepare for their first ever World Cup final in their history of both men’s or women’s cricket.
After 11 semi-final appearances, Proteas captain Sune Luus has broken the curse.
It is a classic case of David vs Goliath – South Africa’s history-makers taking on Australia’s all-stars for World Cup glory.
Cape Town has already been treated to two gripping semi-finals that both sides will take confidence from, as Australia survived a spirited India fightback and South Africa edged a last-over thriller against England.
Australia have history on their side, a team boasting world beaters from 1-11 and the experience of countless World Cup finals as they continue to reign supreme as one of the greatest sporting teams of all time.
But South Africa will have a sold-out Newlands, filled with passionate home fans who have turned out in their thousands throughout the tournament, even when their side suffered two group-stage defeats to Sri Lanka and Australia.
The Proteas also have less pressure, having already exceeded expectations. They can play with freedom and soak in the support.
On numbers alone, Australia should cruise it. But cricket is not defined by its numbers, and South Africa have already upset a heavily-favoured opponent in their semi-final.
‘We want to inspire a nation’
Luus has made history, but her pride lies in seeing the bigger picture for women’s cricket in her country.
The all-rounder’s rise to captaincy was not a smooth one, and neither was South Africa’s World Cup preparation.
She stepped up amid the controversy of Dane van Niekerk’s omission over fitness issues, and the side’s World Cup hopes were hanging by a thread after the opening night’s defeat by Sri Lanka.
But since, the team has looked refreshed, energised and confident, their joy amplified by the numbers of young fans and families that have filled Newlands, Paarl and Gqeberha over the last fortnight.
“As far as cricket is concerned, we are achieving our goals and that’s awesome,” said Luus.
“But also off the field, we’re doing the job we wanted to do – inspire a nation and to get women’s cricket in South Africa on the map.
“People standing in queues to buy tickets for a women’s cricket match is something we never thought would happen in this country and it is a feeling you can’t really put in to words.”
Australia comfortably beat South Africa in the group stages, but Luus insists her side has learned from the defeat.
She also boasts arguably the world’s best seam bowling attack in Marizanne Kapp, Shabnim Ismail and Ayabonga Khaka, who collectively rattled England with sharp pace, accuracy and cunning variation.
“Australia have shown their class so we know we are going to have to put up a good fight,” added Luus.
“But it’s going to be a very even contest, our bowlers being some of best in the world facing the best team in the world.”
‘There’s pressure on everyone’
Lanning knows how to win better than any other captain in the game.
Australia have won 19 of their last 20 T20s and managed to get past India even when far from their best.
They are the ultimate professionals in every aspect of the game, saving every run in the field and having impeccable fitness standards – but they also do not underestimate anyone.
“There are no guarantees,” said Lanning. “There’s pressure on everyone, it’s a World Cup final.
“To get to a final, you’ve beaten good teams, and they are riding a wave of emotion at home as well.”
In 2020, Australia won the title in front of a record 86,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, but will experience the opposite atmosphere at Newlands.
“We’re not going to be the team that everyone’s cheering for, but that’s fine, it will still be an incredible atmosphere at an amazing venue,” said Lanning.
“We’re pumped. We’ll be playing our way and making sure when the pressure’s on and push comes to shove that we do the basics extremely well.”
It is perhaps ominous, though, that Australia have reached the final unbeaten without ever quite hitting their heights.
Beware an Australia looking to respond to a nervy performance in the semi-final with the chance to add yet another trophy to their ever-growing cabinet.