The 2023 T20I Women’s World Cup began with a shock result as Sri Lanka beat the host nation South Africa by three runs in Cape Town.
It stunned the large home crowd into stunned silence and will inevitably open the debate once more about the controversial decision to leave star all-rounder Dane van Niekerk over selection issues.
And in a group that also contains the defending champions and pre-tournament favourites, Australia, and with two teams only progressing to the knock-out stages, South Africa know they already have little margin for error left.
Sri Lanka, on the other hand, can dream of getting out of the group stages for the first time.
It was South Africa who won the toss and decided to field first against the underdogs ranked three places below them in the ICC T20I world rankings, but with a considerable points difference between the pair.
At first, Sri Lanka found it hard to score against the South African seamers and could only manage 28 from the Powerplay overs.
But captain Chamari Atapattu and 17-year-old Vishmi Gunaratne then combined in a second wicket stand of 86 that helped make their score competitive.
Both fell in successive balls in the 18th over, Vishmi was run out for 35, whilst Atapattu fell to a catch off the bowling of Marizanne Kapp. She had scored 68 off 50 balls and struck12 fours.
A total of 15 more were added to the score after that, with Sri Lanka closing their innings on 129/4.
Although the pitch was slow, that appeared a below par score and one that the home side should have been able to chase down with comparative ease.
However, the Sri Lankan spinners led by Inoka Ranaweera began to chip away at the South African innings, taking full advantage of favourable conditions.
The home side still appeared in control of their own destiny heading into the start of the 18th over, but then lost their captain Sune Luus to a stumping, setting up a tense finish in the last over with 13 still need, and two wickets left standing.
In the end, the task prove beyond them and they finished three runs short with one wicket still remaining.
Ranaweera was the best of the bowlers with 3 – 18, whilst fellow-spinners Oshadi Ranasinghe and Sugandika Kumari both finished with two wickets apiece.
Key talking points
Van Niekerk debate reignited
The omission of van Niekerk had dominated the pre match build up for South Africa, and this defeat will only ignite the debate whether she should have been included.
The all-rounder was left out of the squad after failing a fitness test, being unable to complete a 2 km course in a time of nine minutes.
However, her potential impact with bat and ball was missed. And given the narrow margin of defeat, she might have made the difference.
The selectors were hoping that a good open win would silence the critics. Instead, they have just got louder.
At least Kapp, van Niekerk’s partner in real life, did not seem to be affected. She bowled well and fast and demonstrated fine control in the death overs, even though she could only manage 11 runs with the bat.
Not necessarily good news for the tournament
This tournament had been eagerly awaited, and the ground was packed with thousands packing the grandstands and making plenty of noise.
However, organisers will be hoping that the home side can bounce back, and that they do not exit the tournament early because that could well dampen local enthusiasm for the World Cup.
And it means that some of the early optimism that had been generated by beating India in the final of a tri-nation series that also featured the West Indies is in danger of being dissipated.
Luus may have tried to put a brave face on things after the match by saying that “one game doesn’t define us”, but she and her team have now put themselves under pressure.
What happens next
Sri Lanka are next in action against Bangladesh in Cape Town on Sunday.
The following day, South Africa will play New Zealand in Paarl in what has already become a must win game for them.
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