England put South Africa out of their misery in another one-sided game at Derby, completing a clean-sweep of the white-ball series. It seems incredible now, but it was less than 6 months ago that England were going into a World Cup semi-final against South Africa as slight underdogs, having lost to them earlier in the tournament.
It has been a hard fall for the South Africans, and it just got a little bit harder with the confirmation this evening that Marizanne Kapp will not be returning for the Commonwealth Games – having reached the semi-finals of the 3 of the last 4 global tournaments, that’s suddenly looking like a very long shot in Birmingham.
The first ball was about as good as it got for South Africa today – a bit of a loosener from Nonkululeko Mlaba which Sophia Dunkley cut straight to point. Alice Capsey was carded to come in at 6, but told me afterwards she had been warned that she could be bumped up the order if an early wicket fell, and they don’t get much earlier than the second ball.
Having not batted in her debut on Saturday, Capsey admitted to a few nerves walking to the crease but they were soon put to rest, as she took a chainsaw to Masabata Klaas – carving her for four consecutive boundaries in the 2nd over.
Her innings was not a long one – she lasted until just the 5th over, facing 17 balls; but she scored 25 runs at a Strike Rate of 147, and put paid to any doubts that Alice Capsey is as ready as she’ll ever be for international cricket.
It wasn’t a perfect batting performance from England – they settled into a bit of drum-beat during the middle overs, and looked to be heading for around 140-145, until Sophie Ecclestone intervened. Ecclestone holds the record for the highest strike rate ever achieved in an ODI innings – 600, which consisted of 6 off 1 ball – so todays exhibition wasn’t entirely unprecedented, but it was stunning nonetheless – 33 off 12 balls, including 26 off the final over from Klaas, who conceded 62 runs in total from her 4 overs.
Thanks to Ecclestone’s efforts at the death, South Africa had a mountain to climb, and they never looked like climbing it. Issy Wong cleaned up Lara Goodall in the first over with a beautiful ball that shaped back in off the seam to clean bowl the left-hander.
(Though probably best not mention the fact that overall Wong went for 40 from her 4 overs – the joint-7th most runs conceded by an England bowler in T20s – and this in a game England won easily. Yes, the great Anya Shrubsole once conceded 50, but that was in the face of Meg Lanning’s onslaught at Chelmsford in the 2019 Ashes, not a dead-in-the-water South Africa. I still remain not entirely convinced that England can afford someone going at 10 an over in Twenty20 cricket if they want to compete with the very best, but… I said I probably shouldn’t mention it, so I won’t.)
The fall of Goodall brought Tazmin Brits to the crease for her first match of the English leg of this tour, and she produced a solid 59 off 57 balls, but South Africa didn’t need solid – they needed something spectacular, and no one could provide it. After the game, coach Hilton Moreeng acknowledged that he could have shuffled the order around, but with the series already lost he said he wanted to give the experience to the younger players coming through, and he’ll be pleased that Brits at least made something of it.
Meanwhile up in the media centre, debate raged about the Player of the T20 Series, which is selected by the written press. No one really stood out – Katherine Brunt and Sophia Dunkley had brilliant games in Chelmsford but it would have felt like one swallow making a summer; and while Ecclestone had bowled well, and given us those fireworks earlier in the evening, she wasn’t the leading wicket-taker! We prevaricated until the final ball of the final over, when Ecclestone bowled Chloe Tryon to pull level with Brunt on 5 wickets for the series, and suddenly the question was much easier to answer – Player of the Match and Player of the Series went to Ecclestone.
England will face tougher challenges in the next couple of weeks than South Africa have offered them – they’ll likely need to beat New Zealand, India and Australia if they want to win that gold medal at the Commonwealth Games – but overall this T20 series, with its new look squad, was about as good as warm-ups get and England will take a big bag of confidence with them as they travel back across the Midlands to join the party in Birmingham.