Capital punishment was abolished in New Zealand in 1989* but sadly for England’s cricketers, Kappital punishment continues to be very much legal… as Heather Knight and co. discovered to their cost last night.
Remarkably for someone who is arguably the finest bowler of her generation, Marizanne Kapp has never taken an international 5fer before, though she has taken 4 wickets 5 times – 4 times in ODIs, plus once in T20s. Her 5-45 at Mount Maunganui dismantled England, putting the defending champions in very real danger of not qualifying for the knockout stages, and leaving South Africa with a very strong chance of making the semis for the first time since… last time!
Although the vast majority of games in this tournament have been won by the side batting first – the only two that weren’t, prior to today, were against the “minnows”, Pakistan and Bangladesh – South Africa won the toss and opted to send England in, and it paid off quickly with the early wickets of Wyatt and Knight. Both were sucker-punched by Kapp: Wyatt chasing a wide delivery she should have left well alone, and Knight playing on attempting the withdrawal method… something that any British leader can tell you isn’t always entirely reliable… (eh Boris?)
Nat Sciver followed shortly after, playing do-si-do with a delivery from Masabata Klaas, who was obviously somewhat overshadowed by Kapp, but also returned some excellent figures, finishing with 2 for just 23 off 8 overs.
Amy Jones and Tammy Beaumont both had “ok” days, putting on 100 together and both grabbing 50s – Jones bringing to an end a run of indifferent scores over the winter. But one or the other really should have pushed on and turned 50 into 100. I know the commentators on TV are paid to cheerlead to a certain extent, but describing their performances as “absolutely magnificent” isn’t over-egging the pudding so much as making it entirely out of egg. Ash Gardner yesterday was absolutely magnificent. Or Harmanpreet versus the West Indies. Jones and Beaumont turned in a day at the office.
Nonetheless, 235 wasn’t a terrible score – it was, after all, nearly enough. If England’s ambitions are to mix it up with the likes of South Africa and India, it’s the kind of score that will win some and lose some. But if they want to be challenging Australia, they need to be doing Australia-like things, like scoring 100 off the last 10 overs. England today scored 3 boundaries in the final 15 overs – the same number Ash Gardner struck in the final over versus New Zealand. (On a different pitch, of course, but with the same bat and ball!)
As for South Africa, they didn’t exactly “ease” past Bangladesh, and they almost lost to Pakistan. I’m not convinced they are actually a better side than they were in 2017 – their top order is good… if by “top order” you mean Lee and Wolvaardt; but their tail arguably begins at 3. With Mignon du Preez in a terrible rut, with a string of sub-20 scores this year, Kapp has to rescue them far more often than I think they’d like to admit; but she keeps doing it, and she did it again today, sealing the Player of the Match gong with 32 off 42, and chivvying her side into a position where all they needed was one good over, which Katherine Brunt sent them wrapped up in a bow, conceding 10 runs when England really needed to keep it tight. That over got the required rate under 6, and South Africa realised that all they needed to do then was not lose their heads; while England looked like they knew they were about to be beaten by the better side on the day.
All isn’t entirely lost for England – if they win their final 4 games, and other results go their way, they can still make the semis. But the looks on their faces after the game reminded me of those on the faces of the West Indians after they got hammered by South Africa in 2017. It took the Windies 4 years to recover from that traumatic day in Leicester. Let’s hope it doesn’t take England until 2026 to do the same.
* Capital punishment for murder was abolished in 1961, but it remained technically applicable for treason until 1989.