A tightly disciplined powerplay bowling performance set Australia up to lift the World Cup at Newlands, as they went on to defend a par total and win by 19 runs.
Australia held South Africa to 22-1 in the powerplay, with Ash Gardner conceding just 2 runs from her one of those overs, on her way to final figures of 1-20. She epitomised the professionalism of Australia’s approach with the ball in this game, bowling to a clear plan to cramp Tazmin Brits and Laura Wolvaardt for room, which strangled South Africa’s batters early-doors and left them too much to do in the final overs.
Earlier, Australia had posted 156-6 – a par total, which lacked the swagger of their performance at the MCG in the 2020 final, when they had put 184 past helpless India. Beth Mooney was once again the lynchpin of the innings, but without the fireworks Alyssa Healy had provided at the other end in 2020, they couldn’t quite find the rhythm that marks out an exceptional batting performance. Healy and Meg Lanning faced 31 balls between them – lest we forget, over a quarter of the innings – and scored 28 runs at a strike rate of 90 – not exactly “Jon-Ball” territory.
The 29 off 21 which Gardner contributed looked like a cameo at the time, but turned out to be pretty crucial in the end – 10 runs fewer, and it could all have been a different story.
Laura Wolvaardt remains an enigma in T20 cricket. She showed in The Hundred that she can play a single-handed match-winning innings; and there were echoes of the time she smashed 90 off 49 balls for the Superchargers to beat the Originals last summer when she struck the 13th and 14th overs for 14 and 15 runs respectively. Just for a moment, there was hope that she might be able to defy the odds the way she did that day in Leeds.
But it wasn’t to be. 10 runs came of the 15th, but Ash Gardner bowled a tight 6 for 6 in the 16th, which ratcheted-up the pressure and forced the mistake from Wolvie in the following over – Megan Schutt getting the notch, as the South African missed a slog-sweep and was plumb LBW.
You could probably have called the game in that moment, and certainly when Chloe Tryon was bowled by Jess Jonassen in the following over, it was time to pay-out on Australia.
South Africa have done themselves proud in this tournament, as a nearly-13,000 crowd acknowledged at the end, applauding the team who scrapped to get to the final after everyone had written them off, and took Australia – probably the best team ever to have played the game – the distance here.
As for Australia… what can I say that’s not been said before? Since the disappointment of 2017, they’ve won everything there has been to win, weathering key retirements, as the likes of Alex Blackwell and Rachael Haynes stepped aside and players like Tahlia McGrath (look at the record over the past year, not the shocker today!) and Ash Gardner in particular stood up. They’ve built a juggernaut, which ran over England in 2018, India in 2020, England again in 2022, and now South Africa in 2023. Someone, someday will stop their momentum… but that day was not today.