No woman, no cry

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE in London

MARIZANNE Kapp sat on the bones of her backside on the scrubby outfield of Bristol County Ground on Tuesday as a grey afternoon surrendered to a dull evening.

Her arms were wrapped, hands clasped, around her bent knees. The peak of her cap was locked downward. She stared at a blade of grass not a metre away, and saw nothing.

Kapp was a picture of pain, a study in hardness, catatonic with a trauma that dared not speak its name.

She sat unmoved for a forever that went on for too many minutes. The attentions of neither teammates nor opponents could shift her. She was as alone as anyone could be, but she wasn’t lonely.

When she was damn well good and ready she rose and left, measuring her steps from midwicket to the boundary and beyond with the frightening precision of a bomber pilot on a mission to hit only every third enemy trench.

No-one stopped her. No-one would dare. No-one ventured within five metres of her.

In almost 26 years of covering sport, I have seen nothing as powerful, as shimmering with defiance, as Kapp’s passionate refusal to accept the shattering fact of defeat. But defiance is not denial, and at some point the truth took hold.

It …

Was …

Over.

South Africa had come to the World Cup — why should we disclaim it as the women’s World Cup when no such apologetic qualifier is shoved in front of the men’s equivalent — as plucky outsiders whose ability to play a game as good as the one they strutted was questioned.

They left as a team people were compelled to watch, a side spiky with fighters, festooned with talent, and teetering with drama. From Kapp to Shabnim Ismail, as hard-arsed a fast bowler as can be found, to Dane van Niekerk, a bed-headed leg spinner who tells the bulletproof truth as she sees it, to 18-year-old Laura Wolvaardt, who bats as if she is moonwalking with diamonds on the soles of her boots — at 18! Bloody hell! — this is a team to treasure.

So they lost their semi-final against England by two runs with two balls to spare. So what? They lost a game of cricket that might just as easily have gone the other way, and won a legion of supporters to add to all the other legions they have gathered this past month.

“It hurts because we felt like we’d done enough,” Van Niekerk, South Africa’s captain, said, somehow finding enough of her voice to make sense in the madness of the moment.

Enough? South Africa had done so much more than that. But the challenge, now, is to ensure that this team are not shunted out of sight to be dusted off in the imagination of a frankly misogynist public only when the next tournament looms. They must be celebrated and given the attention they have earned.

Or, as England’s captain, Heather Knight, told a distraught Van Niekerk in the cruel moments that followed England clinching victory, “Keep getting better, keep improving ’cause you’re doing brilliant things for the game.”

“The media hype has been amazing,” Van Niekerk said, somehow finding enough light in the gloom of the moment to think a happy thought.

“We’ve had really good feedback from home. Hopefully, after this, a lot of girls get more interested in the game and try it and play it and hopefully our pipeline can come through.”

Hopefully. It’s a detested word in journalism because it’s an expression of nothingness, and this team deserves a lot better than nothing.

And so to a sold out Lord’s for today’s final between England and India. Lord’s! Where as recently as 1986 India’s captain was refused entry to the pavilion because she was a woman.

One day, ‘Kappi’. One day you’ll be there, too, standing tall.

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