Perhaps 2020 can be read in different ways.
Right now things are dull, uninspiring.
It’s like seeing an endless movie about an explorer on a voyage trying to find ‘land,’ hoping for a place where he can move about freely.
The lockdown is like being stuck in an ocean, prompting a question- where does it end?
But in the period before, there was nothing really wrong.
There was the first standalone Women’s T20 World Cup.
And it’s precisely there that a force ended up surprising many playing a brand of cricket which not only shocked the favorite names but nearly went down the road to the finals.
It doesn’t matter whether you and I gave a chance to South Africa in the World Cup.
What matters is, on February 23, the Proteas Women displayed that very quality which is taught in military schools as an essential for taking on an enemy, the valuable life-lesson parents wish their wards imbibe to sail through in life.
The ability to stay unflustered amid great tension.
Those who were at the WACA were given a “value for money” contest. Those who weren’t, probably wanted to be there.
At the end of the 19th over- South Africa were 115.
Still 9 away from victory.
You could’ve said anything.
Gettable? Not doable?
It didn’t matter.
In truth, the number of runs needed were more; the deliveries left in which to get them far less.
More importantly, the ball was in the hands of Katherine Brunt. Honestly, there’s less sense to impart adjectives on a career where numbers speak their own tale. A hardcore fast-bowler only 9 shy of 200 international wickets is in no need of monikers.
She commands both fans’ respect and batter’s fear.
What zipping pace.
So when the fastest English bowler ran in, a single was taken off the first ball; a big inside edge onto the pads. Next ball, Luus would push for a single to point.
Nothing big in the context of a game; England were on top, they believed.
7 were still to get, just 4 balls remaining.
If you were a South African, you could’ve been paralyzed in nervousness.
A World Cup match; a final over chase.
Bat versus ball.
Who knows what’s next?
On 19.3 overs, when Brunt stormed in with probably a million hearts throbbing with unquestionable uncertainty and bowled one around the middle, the right-hander got into a beautiful position and heaved a big hit over deep mid-wicket.
The ball sailed into the stands.
And that eccentric stroke of genius, that England probably never saw coming, brought along ecstasy and agony.
The tables had been turned.
It was advantage South Africa.
The romantics cannot be doubted for saying the replay of the six, which’ll be shown to inspire posterity will focus on Katherine Brunt.
She wasn’t frustrated, but surprised by the sheer audacity of being carved for a six.
Somewhere in that phlegmatic response, it’s not hard to spot admiration for the shot.
The winning runs off a full-toss the next ball and Perth and all that occurred on its electrifying 22 yards would be owned by South Africa.
But that’s where the fabulous tale reaches the crescendo. True beauty follows thereafter.
Minutes later as renowned journalist Natalie Germanos asked the match-winner about her feelings, a voice responded with quintessential Protean honesty, “I am actually lost for words. Firstly I just want to say all glory to god.”
Chances are, anyone with even a morsel of self-love would’ve displayed at least some pride or self-glory.
But there’s never any of it, the purpose always being South Africa when it concerns Mignon du Preez.
Essaying that wonderful smile, one that’s as steeped in Proteas Women camp as that flair for creating magic in Cricket, Mignon walked away saying, “I just wanted to be a match-winner for South Africa.”
It’s often said different situations warrant different actions.
You bring the best strike bowler during the death overs. You wisely give the strike to a powerful hitter when you’re a tail-ender.
Well, one of the most decorated names in the women’s game chose an ideal occasion to stroke a match-winning inning.
This was the 100th T20 international for Mignon du Preez.
But make no mistake.
Stats can be misleading. They thrive on performances.
Is a tall building with 100 floors any good if several floors leading to the top are weak?
Mignon du Preez is a career seeped in performance, woven by big numbers.
The woman with more “firsts” in her timeline than any other in South African women’s cricket history is the first to reach 3000 ODI runs.
She’s also the batter with most T20 runs for South Africa.
But implicit in Mignon du Preez’ 5000-plus runs is absolute dedication for upholding South Africa.
It’s never “my records” but the team cause for a batter whose most significant ODI knock also came against the same opponent, when in the 2017 World Cup, Mignon du Preez fired 76 off 95 and ushered her team to 218.
On a wicket where Jenny Gunn, Shrubsole, and Sciver were as hard to play as is maintaining balance on ice, Mignon first controlled a fidgety line-up then played the cautious converter.
England conquered all batters but not Mignon.
One still wonders what if she’d found more overs to bat?
There’s that perennial “what if?”
Just as there is in a Test career that could’ve birthed many great runs, where Mignon began with a dogged 102, before an absolute change in focus on women’s game progression halted Tests for all teams barring England and Australia.
Not that Mignon du Preez would dwell too much there.
This is someone who has successfully altered the course of challenges that have courted her.
For someone who was in need for upping the T20-strike rate finds hers at 100.6 but only after putting hours into precise-hitting.
In this era of selfies and self-promotion, Mignon’s work ethic is commendable and stands apart.
Last year, possibly during one of their most disappointing outings against India, as a team minus Dane van Niekerk lost all T20s, Mignon was all valuable for South Africa.
In the first contest, she starred by top-scoring with a 59 off 43. Her strike rate was 137, amplified by getting to the line of the ball, using the depth of the crease.
All instances from the coaching manual.
Then after two lean games, when sent to up the ante, she contributed with a 13 off just 7.
Strike rate? 189.
Yet, don’t forget she also weathers the storm; holding an end during tough phases; the one who struck an inspired 90 against India in getting South Africa over the line in a series-levering win at Potchefstroom, 2018.
There’s never an unwarranted greed for risky strokes, contentment is sought in 1s and 2s.
The way she contested big turners Ekta Bisht and Poonam Yadav showed being patient has its own rewards. Ensuring the scoreboard kept ticking, she proved there was a way to gather runs calmly instead of panicking with a tricky ask of 241.
This is when India tried everything- Pandey and Vastrakar firing in tandem only to find Mignon striking them through the covers and around mid-wicket with absolute unflappability.
Just the kind of batter you want when there’s a crisis of faith. The figure that can inspire when you’re having a bad day.
The one who doesn’t leave any department unticked.
For as long as fielding will be regarded as the unsung hero of the game, our memories will recapture Mignon du Preez’ blinder that got rid of the dangerous Nicole Bolton at Canberra, 2016.
Going full length airborne, when du Preez caught the leftie at point, she probably also did her bit to tell biased minds questioning the level of athleticism in the women’s game.
Jonty would’ve been proud.
But frankly, we mustn’t only gaze at inspiring numbers- 2 ODI hundreds, 21 career fifties.
Credit must be given to her for scoring when she was the captain and today, where she functions as the team’s standard-bearer of excellence in a strong middle-order.
You’re struck by Mignon du Preez’s longevity.
Someone without whom the February 23 contest seems as unimaginable as AB de Villiers minus the 360-range or Shrubsole without seam-movement.
And yet, that she reserves so less for the self defines Mignon du Preez, whose 15 off 11 corrected a major wrong.
South Africa hadn’t ever beaten England in a T20 World Cup before that unforgettable evening.
Here’s hoping there’s more to come.