Taking down India was important, but South Africa’s biggest tests await. (Reuters: Lee Smith)
For the longest time, women’s cricket was all about England and Australia. The two sides shaped up for the first Test in 1934, and of 138 Test matches since, 119 have involved at least one or the other.
When short-form tournaments began, the two traded winner and runner-up status. New Zealand eventually broke through for a cheeky World Cup in 2000, the West Indies made a couple of global finals from 2013, while India’s slow emergence is a dozen years old and counting.
- 1973: England
- 1978: Australia
- 1982: Australia
- 1988: Australia
- 1993: England
- 1997: Australia
- 2000: New Zealand
- 2005: Australia
- 2009: England
- 2013: Australia
Unsurprisingly, the two countries with the biggest player pools and deepest pockets have bossed the rest. Both categories are of course relative, with women’s cricket historically understaffed and underfunded everywhere. But at least “less bad” could have described the situation in the Big Two.
Fundamentally, the 2017 World Cup has followed the same pattern. Australia and England put on the most competitive and professional display in the pool stage, and any sane pundit is tipping them for the big dance on Sunday.
But the landscape is evolving, the ecosystem growing more complex. It’s not quite a matter of teams crawling out of the sea for a life in the trees, but the slower developers are at least starting to grow legs.
One such evolving life form is South Africa. A semi-final in 2000 was followed by a slip back in subsequent tournaments. Even a year or two ago, the team was not really a serious threat. That has started to change, via a more…