Mark Keohane, writing for ‘Keo’s Corner’ on IOL Sport
If the Proteas men’s team’s international fall has been dramatic over the past two years, the opposite is true of the women who represent the best of South Africa’s cricketing talent.
The women’s team thumped India four-one in an ODI international series that was completed this week in India. The victorious final match was their 10th win in their last 11 international matches and ensured that they reached an all-time high ranking of second best ODI team in the world.
Australia’s women still lead the pack, but the Proteas have closed the gap on Australia and in the last World Cup, played in Australia, lost to the hosts by just five runs in a dramatic semi-final.
South Africa’s finest women cricketers are a mixture of youth and experience and fortunately the new generation of South African cricketers arrived while the veterans were still in the finest form.
The Proteas success in India can’t be overstated, especially because they had to do without regular captain Dane van Niekerk. In her absence, Sune Luus excelled, but as she was quick to point out, the strength of the Proteas is their collective, which is why the super talented Laura Wolvaardt could also so comfortably step into the role of captain when Luus was unavailable.
There were several standout performances, both in India and in the home-series thumping of Pakistan, and the result was that those individuals skyrocketed up the world rankings in batting and bowling.
Several of South Africa’s best have also prospered in Australia’s Premier domestic T20 competition, the Big Bash, with Wolvaardt getting rave reviews and being touted as a player who could become one of the best to ever play the game.
Wolvaardt’s career is still in its infancy and she is benefitting from playing alongside the likes of Lee, Mignon du Preez, Marizaan Kapp and Shabnim Ismail, with the duo ranked fourth and third respectively among the world’s best bowlers.
Ismail became just the seventh player in women’s ODI’s to take 150 wickets.
The women’s game is flourishing globally, in terms of sponsorship and spectator appeal and South Africa’s leading ladies are quickly becoming the talk of the town.
It wasn’t too long ago that there was a dismissiveness of women’s cricket in this country, just as there had been a reluctance to accept the quality of Banyana Banyana among football followers.
But the more Banyana triumphed, the more people wanted to watch them and whatever prejudice there may have been, especially within the sports media community, isn’t there anymore.
Similarly, with the Proteas women’s cricketers.
The more individuals succeeded and the more the Proteas won, the more they have been celebrated on social media platforms, in print, digitally and on traditional broadcast platforms.
They are rightfully written about as fine cricketers and not viewed as anything inferior to their male counterparts. Those cricketers have done their talking through consistent performances and the Proteas are comfortably the biggest movers and shakers in women’s cricket.
It has been a remarkable achievement from the women when you consider the historic prejudice.
South Africa’s sponsors have also responded to the quality of the players, the national team’s global ranking and also the support there is for these women in South Africa.
The fight for equality in recognition and acceptance is ongoing in all sports and all sectors of society but the more the women prosper the softer the noise from those schooled in those eras that defined sport as something exclusive to men.
And the Proteas, like Banyana Banyana are, on fire.
To beat India in India is a huge result. To win so emphatically is bigger than just a result.