TELFORD VICE in Bristol
A plaque proclaiming Gloucestershire as the home of WG Grace, “The Great Cricketer” himself, has hung outside Bristol’s County Ground since July 18, 1948 — the centenary of his birth.
But Nelson Mandela loomed even larger for the South Africans who were here on Tuesday — the 99th anniversary of the day their first properly elected president was born.
Eleven of those too young to remember Mandela’s 67 years of struggle for change would have hoped to give him a fitting posthumous birthday present.
It was not to be: England beat South Africa by two wickets with two balls to spare in their World Cup semi-final.
Dane van Niekerk’s team fought bloody hard — harder than that other lot who wear green and gold have done in almost all of their knockout matches — but even their high quality attack was always going to struggle to defend the 218/6 their batsmen mustered.
“We were 30 runs short but we went out there believing,” Van Niekerk said afterwards.
England replied with 221/8 to book a berth in the final at Lord’s on Sunday.
Their opponents will be the winners of Thursday’s other semi between Australia and India in Derby.
Sixty-seven, then, was the magic number on Tuesday.
Laura Wolvaardt, South Africa’s silkily skilled opening batsman, just missed it in her superb 66 and Mignon du Preez flipped it around with a gutsy unbeaten 76, her highest score of the tournament.
Together Wolvaardt and Du Preez went 10 better than the Mandela measure and shared 76 for the third wicket.
But South Africa couldn’t find much more Madiba magic at the crease, where their next highest score was Van Niekerk’s 27, or 40 run short of par.
England should have won more easily than they did, but the South Africans weren’t going to go quietly.
None more so than medium pacer Ayabonga Khaka, who bowled her 10 overs unchanged and took 2/28.
Wouldn’t you know it: Khaka was born on this day, 25 years ago, in Mandela’s own Eastern Cape.
One of her victims was Tammy Beaumont, the tournament’s leading runscorer, who heaved and was bowled for 15 as England stumbled to 61/2 in 13 overs.
Sarah Taylor’s 54 put the home side back on top, but the result was in doubt as late as the 43rd over, when left-arm seamer Moseline Daniels saw Katherine Brunt’s charge down the pitch, corrected, and bowled her off her pads to reduce the home side to 173/6.
Wicketkeeper Trisha Chetty’s desperate diving catch to dismiss Fran Wilson in the 48th made it 213/7.
But that was South Africa’s last hurrah, and England needed three off the last.
Shabnim Ismail took charge of the last six balls — and promptly dropped the first one after Jenny Gunn hammered it back at her.
A single accrued off the second.
The third splayed Laura Marsh’s stumps.
They couldn’t. Could they?
No. Anya Shrubsole put the fourth through cover point for four, and it was over.
Most of the South Africans sank to their haunches and stayed there.
Marizanne Kapp, a tough-as-nails fast bowler, sat flat on the ground in the wasteland of midwicket, hands over head, lost in her disappointment.
Grace would have understood. Mandela would have been proud.