Natalie Sciver demonstrated her importance to England with a superb spell of 3-4 in four overs which set the tone for everything that followed in their seven-wicket victory over South Africa. It was a result that secured their place in the semi-finals after West Indies thumped Sri Lanka later in the day.
Due to the back injury which ruled Katherine Brunt out of the T20 World Cup, the all-rounder has been given the extra responsibility of opening the bowling, and it is hard to imagine how she could have done a better job so far. In the first match, she took a wicket and kept Bangladesh tied down by conceding just seven runs in three overs.
After that, Sciver went up a gear against South Africa. She gave away just one run in her first over to get England off to a good start. Then she returned to bowl the eighth over and immediately trapped the Proteas’ most dangerous batsman Lizelle Lee lbw. That wicket reduced South Africa to 27/2 and, due to their slow run rate, the match already looked as good as over.
There was still more to come from the seamer. She was brought back into the attack for the 18th over after Chloe Tryon hit Linsey Smith for two sixes in the previous over to move to 27. But Sciver ensured her momentum did not last. She took the pace off the second ball of the over and Tryon sliced the ball straight into the hands of Sophie Ecclestone at mid-off.
Three balls later, Sciver earned her third wicket when Faye Tunnicliffe chipped the ball to Lauren Winfield at mid-on. It was a virtuoso bowling performance, and South Africa were now in all sorts of trouble at 79-7.
Shrubsole finishes the innings with a hat-trick
After most of the damage was done by Sciver and the spinners, Anya Shrubsole made her mark on proceedings in the final over. She knocked back Shabnim Ismail’s off-stump, had Masabata Klaas caught by Tammy Beaumont at point and then bowled Yolani Fourie to complete her hat-trick.
It was ruthless and classy from England’s premier pace bowler and it put the seal on a miserable 19.3 overs for South Africa.
Wyatt and Beaumont show South Africa how it should be done
Although England bowled superbly, it must be said that South Africa’s openers let them build pressure. They did not attack, they did not come down the wicket to mess up their lengths, and they did not place the ball into the gaps to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
Lizelle Lee is renowned as one of the most destructive batters in world cricket but she made just 12 runs off 26 balls. And unfortunately it was a start her team was unable to recover from. It put pressure on the middle-order and, despite their best efforts, they could not propel South Africa to a competitive total.
By contrast, Danni Wyatt and Tammy Beaumont did everything good opening batsmen should do in T20 wicket. They hit the ball hard into the gaps for boundaries, they manufactured singles to rotate the strike and they put the fielders under pressure. It all added up to a first-wicket partnership of 55 in 8 overs, which is almost exactly twice what South Africa scored in that time.
The only frustration for England will be that the openers did not finish the job. Wyatt missed a straight ball from Dane van Niekerk and Tammy Beaumont spooned up an easy catch. Sciver also fell cheaply but Heather Knight and Amy Jones calmly finished off the chase.
India or Australia await England in the last four
The cream has well and truly risen to the top at the T20 World Cup as four teams have comprehensively outshone the rest.
India look the most impressive. They followed up good wins over New Zealand, Pakistan and Ireland with an excellent victory over Australia to top Group B with a hundred percent record.
And their results are no accident. They batted, bowled and fielded superbly throughout the group stage and have become a formidable side.
England and West Indies play against each other tomorrow to decide who finishes top of Group A. The loser of that encounter will face India in the semi-final and will have to find a way to stop the triumvirate of leading run-scorer Harmanpreet Kaur, exceptional young talent Smriti Mandhana and experienced superstar Mithali Raj.
They will also have to cope with the threat of leg-spinner Poonam Yadav and left-arm spinner Radha Yadav. It is bound to be a formidable task, but both England and West Indies are good enough to take it on and win, so it could make for a fascinating clash.
The other semi-final is likely to be just as exciting. Australia have an excellent all-round team and were considered favourites before the tournament began.
However, two things happened in the India game which could derail their bid. Firstly, they lost, which will have dented their confidence going the last four. Secondly, and perhaps even more significantly, their star player, Alyssa Healy, collided with seamer Megan Schutt and had to leave the field with concussion.
Healy scored 157 runs in three innings prior to the India game and looked to be the most dangerous opener in the tournament, so she would be a big loss to the Southern Stars if she was ruled out of the semi-finals.
Of course, they can still win without the inspirational wicketkeeper-batsman but, with both England and West Indies in top form, it will be a tough task.
So many things can happen which will decide which teams progress to the T20 World Cup Final and, as always, it could come to a couple of stunning individual performances or a moment of brilliance. Whichever way it goes, it is bound to be exciting.
Further Reading: Three Keys to England Success at the 2018 Women’s T20 World Cup