England huffed and puffed against South Africa at Worcester today, but a fine innings from Lizelle Lee was ultimately the difference between the two teams – South Africa winning by 7 wickets with 4 overs to spare.
Perhaps the turning point was Katherine Brunt’s disallowed catch, which would have sent Lee back to the pavilion on 68, leaving two new batters at the crease. Brunt certainly thought she’d caught it, telling the media after the game:
“I honestly believe I caught it, but obviously that’s not my decision – when it goes upstairs its their decision and I guess that’s the decision they made and that’s the one I’ve got to stick with.”
But in truth the match was arguably already long lost by that stage, with South Africa having done the hard work in the morning to reduce England to 64-6, with all their “proper” batsmen back in the pavilion.
Brunt’s innings of 72*, and in particular her partnership of 51 with Laura Marsh, did give them something to bowl at; and although Brunt’s innings wasn’t pretty, it was effective. It also came off the back of a half-century against Hampshire in the County Championship:
“That set me up for this game today,” she said. “I had to bat for a long time and the ball was seaming around, so it something that I’ve been doing. I’ve been waiting my whole career to be taken seriously in terms of batting and being a genuine all-rounder, and the more I can go out there and show that I can bat, I’m happy.”
And she believed England had done enough:
“I fancy our squad as a really good bowling side and I thought we could dig ourselves out from anything above 140. Once we got past 140 it was time to get as many as we possibly could and I truly believe coming out that we had enough to defend, because I back our bowlers.”
But that reckoned without Lizelle Lee, who played a quite untypical innings:
“It was a bit unlike her,” said Brunt. “She normally plays a lot more aggressively than that, so she didn’t give us as many opportunities this time. I thought she played quite sensibly and she took her opportunities when they came, but that’s what you can do when you are not chasing as many.”
As for Lee herself, she was typically modest, saying this was “up there” but not her best innings.
Did she think she was out to the Brunt “catch”?
“Honestly I did, but the guys called me from the top and said listen – wait – I think she could have dropped it, so I waited.”
“Then Dane [van Niekerk] started screaming at me: use this chance!”
And use it she did, finishing the match with a thumping 6 to consign England to defeat in their first home match since the World Cup final.
Interestingly, Lee thinks that South Africa are a better side than when England knocked them out in the semi finals on the way to their win at Lords:
“We’ve improved immensely! The World Cup was a great event for us – we batted well, we bowled well, and we didn’t do anything that bad in the semi-final – I think England were just a little bit better.”
“But now there’s 4 years to go until the next World Cup, so we have to go hard and use series like this teach you the confidence you need.”
And if one match can ever be a statement, this was it – South Africa are a serious side, with serious ambitions, and when it comes to the next World Cup they will be up there!