England hold nerve in thriller to make final
England 221 for 8 (Taylor 54, Wilson 30, Luus 2-24 Khaka 2-28) beat South Africa 218 for 6 (Du Preez 76, Wolvaardt 66) by two wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
England progressed to their fifth World Cup final but not before South Africa gave them a mighty scare in Bristol. England nearly paid the price for switching off. A cruise when Sarah Taylor and Heather Knight were at the crease turned into a full-blown collapse when they lost three wickets - one of those to a brilliant run-out and another to a rank full toss - in the space of eleven deliveries. At 149 for 5, chasing 219, it was game on.
But England dug deep to find a way out. Fran Wilson and Jenny Gunn exhibited England's batting depth to take them within six runs of victory. Wilson showed tremendous guts - none more than her scoop to a full ball over short third man off Shabnim Ismail with England needing 40 off 38 - to make 30, before falling in the 48th over.
It should have been easily from there on, but pressure can do strange things. South Africa were taking every step to make Nelson Mandela Day a memorable one. The game hinged on a knife's edge as it went into the final over, off which England needed three. Ismail, entrusted with the responsibility of trying to polish off the last three wickets, put down a sharp chance off the first ball to reprieve Gunn. Nerves were jangling. Then with two needed off four, she foxed Laura Marsh with a slower ball. The England players were on tenterhooks now.
South Africa needed two wickets. Anya Shrubsole, hardly needed to bat in the tournament, was on strike. She saw width and flayed it through point to bring up the winning runs, runs that were like a dagger through South Africa's hearts as another World Cup dream crashing down to leave them heart-broken even as a jubilant England side extended an arm of support to the wounded soldiers.
If South Africa were to reflect on the heart-wrenching loss, as they would in all likelihood, they'd perhaps rue letting England drift away when Taylor whipped, scooped and flicked her way to a half-century. Up until then, they had managed to pull things back courtesy Ayabongo Khaka's 10-over spell which yielded two wickets, including that of Tammy Beaumont, the highest run-getter in the tournament.
But Taylor's 78-run stand with Knight had a deflating effect. They also didn't help matters early in the chase by being a little off-colour on the field. Trisha Chetty, the record-holder for most dismissals in women's ODIs, had a particularly bad day, fluffing two opportunities along with a number of fumbles to leak runs.
All of this meant South Africa had no control over proceedings until Dane van Niekerk brought them back with an inspirational effort - a one-handed pick up at cover to run Taylor out with a direct hit at the striker's end in the 33rd over. They weren't the same side from there on. Laura Wolvaardt's acrobatic effort at square leg off a full toss sent Knight back. When Natalie Sciver was bowled around her legs by Sune Luus, South Africa's hopes brightened.
The tournament's best batting line-up was seriously being challenged by a gun attack. But England had a Gunn in their ranks too, and she biffed two boundaries off the 47th over to bring the equation to under a run-a-ball, shortly after Mosaline Daniels removed Katherine Brunt. But at the end, South Africa were left to rue a lower-order collapse of their own, which left them at least 30 short of what they should've got.
Wolvaardt and Mignon du Preez struck half-centuries, and together they put on 77 for the third wicket, to set South Africa for a tilt at 250, but they never gained momentum. Once Wolvaardt fell, England simply didn't let the middle and lower order get away on a slow surface where manufacturing shots wasn't easy.
Yet, Wolvaardt's control of her batting stood out when runs were hard to come by. She batted with the maturity of a veteran, who knew how to make up for the slow start. At the other end, du Preez improvised, often manufacturing strokes by walking across or using the depth of the crease to either flick or cut and pull.
But the first sign of growing comfort resulted in Knight introducing spin. It was a sign that they'd done their homework. Laura Marsh and Alex Hartley tied the runs down in the middle overs, before Knight reaped the reward in her first over when Wolvaardt was out bowled trying to cut a skiddy delivery. Three balls later, a mix-up led to Marizanne Kapp's run out.
South Africa's last roll of the dice at 250 were Van Niekerk and Chloe Tryon, who replaced Masabata Klaas, only because they needed the middle-order muscle. When she chipped a simple return catch off her third delivery, South Africa's innings had quickly descended into free fall. It needed a pugnacious unbeaten 76 from du Preez to give them a fighting chance, but it wasn't quite enough.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo