Sri Lanka produced a stunning upset to beat tournament hosts South Africa on a hugely entertaining opening night of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2023 on Friday.
The inspired Lankans successfully defended 129 after skipper Chamari Athapaththu’s excellent 68 had helped them to a competitive total on a glorious Cape Town evening.
And, with the sun setting behind Table Mountain, it was the spin trio of Sri Lanka who did much of the damage, with South Africa falling three runs short and with just one wicket remaining.
All of the South African top five reached double figures in the chase, but wickets fell at regular intervals as Sri Lanka’s bowlers delivered in style to earn them a huge victory. Seven wickets fell to spin in all, with the remaining two being run-outs.
The tournament hosts had won the toss and opted to bowl first at a packed-out Newlands, with Shabnim Ismail and Marizanne Kapp turning the screw in the first few overs, playing a big part in restricting the score to 28/0 after the powerplay.
Nadine de Klerk struck in her first over to remove Harshitha Samarawickrama (8), but skipper Athapaththu and 17-year-old Vishmi Gunaratne accelerated superbly through the middle overs to put the Proteas under pressure.
Sri Lanka’s captain has been a rock at the top of the order for many years, and turned on the style at the start of her latest major international tournament.
It was the skipper who relieved the pressure after some tight opening overs, creaming back-to-back fours to get things ticking, and she accelerated as she went through a superb innings.
A catch in the deep sent her back to the dugout for 68 from 50 deliveries, and her furious reaction showed that she had every intention of going big at the death to boost her side.
But one of the encouraging elements of the first innings for Athapaththu was that she did not have to do it all on her own.
Teenager Gunaratne played very well at the recent ICC U19 Women’s T20 World Cup, and showed that she has the quality to step up to the senior level with a classy 35 from 34 that bodes extremely well for the future.
Some outstanding death bowling from Kapp and Ismail, combined with inspired fielding from Tazmin Brits, restricted Sri Lanka at the back end to limit them to 129/4.
Shabnim Ismail, Marizanne Kapp and Nadine de Klerk all took a wicket each.
Chasing 130, Tazmin Brits (12) fell early to a catch in the covers, but South Africa laid the platform for the chase, reaching 38/1 at the end of the powerplay overs.
However, some outstanding bowling saw Sri Lanka remove both Kapp (11) and Laura Wolvaardt (18) to leave the Proteas at 56/3 at the midway point of the reply.
And a double-wicket over saw Chloe Tryon (10) and Anneke Bosch (0) sent back to the hutch to leave the tournament hosts in trouble, with the required rate climbing as the game headed for the death overs.
The game was on a knife edge as wickets continued to fall, with a stumping ending Sune Luus’ (28) resistance and a brilliant run out sending Sinalo Jafta (15) back.
And the superb Sugandika Kumari (2/28) held her nerve in the final over to seal the win for Sri Lanka, with South Africa ending three runs short.
Inoka Ranaweera was the pick of the bowlers for SL and picked 3/18 in her four overs. Oshadi Ranasinghe (2/20) also delivered an impressive spell.
Athapaththu was sensational in the field too, and deservedly picked up the Player of the Match award.
The make-up of Group 1 means that South Africa will now have to likely beat both of the group’s higher-ranked sides (Australia and New Zealand) if they are to reach the semi-finals.
It is a huge blow for the tournament hosts, who will have to play out of their skins if they are to repeat their 2020 efforts and qualify for the final four.
The Kiwis are up next on Monday for Luus and her side. Lose that and they will effectively be out.
Brief Scores: South Africa: 126/9 (Sune Luus 28, Laura Wolvaardt 18, Inoka Ranaweera 3/18) lost to Sri Lanka: 129/4 (Chamari Athapaththu 68, Vishmi Gunaratne 35, Marizanne Kapp 1/15). (ANI)