The target was steep. 294 in a match like World Cup Semi-Final was never going to be a cakewalk for any side. But South Africa had hope. And all their hope was predominantly dependent on their 22-year-old opener, Laura Wolvaardt. That hope was not an exaggerated one. She has hit 5 half-centuries in 6 matches, for them in that World Cup, and was on the verge of becoming the highest run-getter overall. Except for one match against West Indies, which was curtailed due to rain, she never got out in less than 40 runs in that tournament where her opening partners failed constantly. Though she was yet to score a century, the Proteas hoped for that in the semi, as Danni Wyatt played for England.
After a quiet first over where Brunt conceded one run, Shrubsole came from the other end. Wolvaardt defended the first ball which came in sharply from outside off. The next ball was on the same length and Wolvaardt flicked it half-heartedly. The ball was chipped up just below Shrubsole’s knees, and she reacts quickly to grab the chance. South Africa’s biggest hope was gone for a duck in the semifinal. South Africa bundled out for 156. losing the match by 137 runs. Just like the previous edition of the World Cup, South Africa’s journey once again shared in the Semi-Final against England.
Laura Wolvaardt started her World Cup journey by punching a ball wide of the diving cover-point to take a couple against Bangladesh. One of the best ‘drivers’ of the ball, Laura punched the next ball off the back foot, firmly and into the gap wide of cover-point for the first boundary. Despite losing Britts South Africa was on track after 10, as she send Jahanara and Trishna to the boundary. If she showed her class through drives against the pacers she cut through the point against spinners repeated times on her 41 from 52 balls, before getting out to spinners. Though South Africa was restricted to a mere 207, their famous seam bowling attack clinched 32 runs victory.
Against Pakistan, she started with square drives with an open face against Fatima Sana. The ball was in the air and went past the diving Diana who was going the other way and reacts late. The ball went past the backward point. Though South Africa lost two wickets within ten overs, Laura and captain Sune Luss went on to put up an 89 run stand to stable the innings. Apart from sending Pakistani seamers, Daina Baig and Fatima Sana, She never missed the chance to steal a run.
Wolvaardt completed her half-century by sending spinner, Gulam Fatima, to the boundary in back to back deliveries. An over later Wolvaardt swept Sohail to fine leg to make three fours in the last five balls she faced. Gulam Fatima who was playing her first match claimed her maiden wicket in form of Laura who hit her for another boundary in the previous ball. While she wanted to work the tossed up ball on the leg side and edge, back to bowler, Fatima made no mistake. Wolvaardt’s 75 along with Luss’s 61 led to South Africa’s assimilation of 223 runs. A brilliant last over by Shabnim Ismail who defended 10 runs, led to a 6 runs victory.
South Africa had never beaten England in World Cup, prior to this edition. A 5-wicket haul from Marizanne Kapp restricted England to a modest total of 235. The chase though not looked a difficult one, Lee fell in the 18th over. In the entire tournament, Wolvaardt played the role of an anchor who tried to play as long as possible. South African batting order was not as promising as their bowling was, and batting depended on the players like Mignon, Wolvaardt and Lee, in absence of DVN.
She started shakily as her first run came from an inside edge from Brunt. Brunt tried to test her with a short pitch ball, and she dismayed her to the square leg boundary. The next ball from Brunt was too full, outside off. And Wolvaardt was too kind to let go of those full ones. It didnot escape Wolvaardt’s wrath. She leant into it, transferred all the body weight, and middles the drive for a cracking four.
That one shot brought all the confidence back for Wolvaardt. Wolvaardt was put down on 4, 23, 50 and 62, became South Africa’s highest run-scorer at World Cups, and bettered her best score at a World Cup with 77, which set up South Africa’s chase. Wolvaardt came up with consecutive half-centuries. It was followed by another half-century against New Zealand. 67 from 94 balls and South Africa registered their first victory against the hosts. And in both the matches Marizanne Kapp played a crucial role in the chase.
Against Australia, Wolvaardt and Lizelle Lee put on 88 for the first wicket, with Lee playing a supportive role to Wolvaardt’s more aggressive approach. Lee scored 16 runs off the first 28 balls she faced; by that stage, Wolvaardt was on 43 off 64. Woldvaardt’s fifty was her fourth successive half-century of the tournament and came off 86 balls. Wolvaardt was 10 runs short of her first century in the tournament when she was removed by Gardner. Her 151 ball 90 was curated with 6 boundaries. A quickfire half-century from Luss and Kapp took the total past the 25o runs mark. Though it was shadowed by Meg Lanning’s century, Laura Wolvaardt was again on her full shine in the match against India.
Their match against India was a must-win game for India. South Africa has beaten India for the first time in the last year’s edition when Mithali Raj was out for a golden duck. Smriti Mandhana and Verma gave India a blistering start, who added 91 runs in the 14th over. Both of them completed their half-centuries with a strike rate of more than 80. Another half-century from Mithali Raj and 48 from Harman meant India reach a total of 274. Though at the 40th over mark it looked like India will score at least 300, with Harmanpreet at the crease, well set, it’s the brilliant death bowling restricted India to a par score.
South Africa again lost Lee early and this time with a brilliant fielding effort from Harmanpreet Kaur. Wolvaardt who took 5 balls for her first run, opened her boundary account with a cut against Meghna Singh. After the fall of Lee, Wolvaardt put on her destructed mode. For the first time in the tournament. In absence of Jhulan Goswami, Meghna Singh was given the charge to open the bowling along with Deepti Sharma. After her two quiet overs, Meghna was hit for a couple of boundaries by Wolvaardt though cover with decent stride. Meghna was punished for fuller balls to Wolvaardt, who is famous for bisecting the offside fields, irrespective of the number of fielders, guarding them.
In the next two overs, Wolvaardt flicked her behind square wristily into the gap, drove through cover-point and pulled it firmly through square-leg, collecting 3 boundaries from her boundaries. South Africa scored 43 runs in 10 overs and 32 runs came from one end of Meghna Singh. While Wolvaardt collected boundaries with ease, she merely failed to rotate the strike. Sensing the trouble Indian skipper Mithali Raj introduced spinners. But without any use. Sneh Rana and Rajeswari Gayakwad failed to check runs.
Laura completed her 5th half-century in just 44 balls with 8 boundaries, by cutting a short pitch ball behind point from Gayakwad. Vastrakar went for a couple of boundaries in the 2oth over from her and South Africa went past the 100 runs mark. 125 runs partnership with Lara Goodall for the 2nd wicket put South Africa in a commanding situation. As a last resort, Mithali turned to Harmanpreet Kaur. She conceded 5 runs in the first over. Moreover, she was generating turns from the wicket.
In the last ball of Kaur’s 2nd over, she got what Mithali asked for it. The ball pitched just outside off which drew Wolvaardt forward. She leaned into the length ball just outside off to clip it to leg with the turn, but she’s beaten by the flighted ball. It turned in sharply, goes off the edge and hit the stumps. Wolvaardt was gone for 80 from 79 balls. She missed another well-deserving century but her strike rate gave South Africa a chance to go for the victory. Mignon du Preez’s calm unbeaten 52 knocked India out of the World Cup.
In her first World Cup Laura Wolvaardt scored 324 runs with 4 half-centuries at the age of 18. And in her next edition, she bettered it with 433 runs with 5 half-centuries. In 15 innings she has amassed 9 half-centuries, the third-highest in the World Cups. While Mithali Raj has taken 36 innings for 11 half-centuries, and Hockley 43 for her 10, Laura Wolvaardt who takes less than two matches for a World Cup half-century is most likely to surpass both of them. With 757 runs she is already the highest scorer for South Africa in World Cup. And in this World Cup, she has scored the highest % run of any batters who have topped the batting chart for their respective side.