Van Niekerk's honesty will serve SA well as sudden death game looms

Captain Dane Van Niekerk during the Proteas Women's send-off to ICC Women's World T20 at CSA Head Offices on October 23, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Captain Dane Van Niekerk during the Proteas Women's send-off to ICC Women's World T20 at CSA Head Offices on October 23, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Image: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images

No-one in cricket is more bracingly honest than Dané van Niekerk‚ the captain of South Africa’s embattled team at the World T20 (WT20) in the Caribbean.

So when she says‚ as she did after South Africa batted without belief against West Indies on Thursday to set up a sudden-death encounter with England in St Lucia on Saturday‚ “I have no know idea what the record is but the last time we played against them we actually beat them in England”‚ you can’t look down on her ignorance.

Other captains would have fudged something about it not mattering what that record is‚ they simply had to win or go home.

Van Niekerk‚ perhaps still shocked by South Africa losing five wickets for one run and being dismissed for 76 chasing only 108‚ gave it to us straight.

It’s a quality that can only help her team win in St Lucia on Saturday‚ and against Bangladesh at the same ground on Monday — which they have to do to keep alive a chance of reaching the semifinals.

Besides‚ Van Niekerk may not want to think about South Africa’s T20 record against England right now.

She’s correct in that South Africa won‚ by six wickets‚ the last time the teams met in the format‚ in Taunton in June.

But that is one of only two T20 successes for the South Africans against England‚ who have won 14.

In Taunton‚ Lizelle Lee scored 68 and Suné Luus made an unbeaten 63‚ and they shared a stand of 103.

In South Africa’s two games at the WT20‚ Marizanne Kapp’s 38 and Van Niekerk’s 33 not out against the Windies have been their only scores of 20 or more‚ and their partnership of 67 the only half-century effort in a litany of poor performance.

Eight of their 13 stands have not reached double figures‚ and half of those wasn’t worth a single run.

And that while their bowlers have been heroes‚ none more so than Shabnim Ismail.

The fast bowler and five others are the tournament’s leading wicket-takers with six each‚ and her two three-wicket hauls are among the top six performances in an innings.

Ismail is joint-fourth in the strike rate stakes and second in the averages‚ where leg-spinner Van Niekerk is fourth‚ and Van Niekerk and Ismail own two of the top six economy rates.

For all that‚ Van Niekerk was dead right to say: “It’s a tournament. Anything can happen. We’ve seen funnier things happen‚ but we just need to bounce back as a unit.”

England captain Heather Knight was on the same page after her side’s game against Sri Lanka on Saturday was washed out.

“It’s tournament cricket; it’s such a short‚ sharp tournament — every game is important‚” she said.

Already‚ Australia and India have confirmed themselves as the semifinalists from group B.

Group A is more open with current champions West Indies and 2009 winners England a point apart at the top of the standings. Bangladesh‚ who are pointless after three matches‚ are the only side out of the running.

That leaves four teams scrambling for two places. Welcome to tournament cricket indeed.

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