South Africa Women 193 for 3 (Lee 92*, van Niekerk 58) beat England Women 189 for 9 (Brunt 72*, Ismail 3-25, Khaka 3-42) by seven wickets
Nearly a year after England knocked South Africa out of the Women's World Cup in a tense and emotional affair at Bristol, Dane van Niekerk's side wreaked its revenge at New Road. Lizelle Lee led the way with an unbeaten 92 as South Africa cruised to a seven-wicket victory with 27 balls remaining in the first of three ODIs. It was dominant display in all areas by a South African side that has improved significantly in recent years and leaves the World Cup champions with much work to do at the start of their international season.
This was England's first home match since their celebrated victory over India at Lord's, and the loss will sting, but it could have been much worse. Batting first after Heather Knight won the toss, England were floundering at 61 for 5 when Katherine Brunt came to the crease; to say her unbeaten 72 saved England's blushes would be an understatement. No other England batter passed 19 and their lack of depth in seam bowling was exposed in the chase.
Set a modest 190 for victory, South Africa overcame the loss of two early wickets to romp home on the back of half-centuries to Lee and van Niekerk. The pair came to the crease with the scoreboard displaying a nervy 5 for 2. England had started their defence confidently; Brunt bowling the exciting young prodigy, Laura Wolvaardt, for 2 and then Sarah Taylor pulling off an audacious leg-side stumping to dismiss Sune Luus for a duck.
Keeping up to the stumps to Anya Shrubsole, Taylor showcased lightning hands and impeccable reflexes to collect the ball wide of leg stump with her left hand and whip the ball across her body to remove the bails as Luus vainly attempted to ground her bat behind the line.
But from there Lee and van Niekerk saw off the opening bowlers and feasted on the rest. The injection of Jenny Gunn - instrumental in England's semi-final victory a year earlier - into the attack merely whetted van Niekerk's appetite for runs. Served a half-volley, the South Africa captain dropped to one knee and swatted the ball over deep mid-wicket for six. The next two deliveries went for four as van Niekerk unfurled a series of glorious drives, holding the pose for good measure. Two years into her captaincy, van Niekerk has moved up the order to bat at four; judging by this display, which included ten fours and a six, it's a position that suits.
Perhaps having her captain as a partner took some pressure off Lee. She is an aggressive and powerful striker who naturally scores rapidly. But after the loss of early wickets Lee displayed admiral maturity and patience, the tempo of her innings rising and falling as the situation and bowler required.
When van Niekerk was bowled on Shrubsole's return - it was no coincidence that the pressure intensified when England's opening bowlers were brought back on - Lee consolidated and accelerated once more with Mignon du Preez. However, the first chance she offered, on 68, looked to have ended her stay: trying to slog Shrubsole to long-off, where a diving Brunt appeared to take the catch. Lee was given out - Brunt was adamant after the game that she felt she had taken the catch - and walked off only to be sent back to the boundary by her team-mates on the balcony. Eventually the third umpire reversed the decision and Lee returned to the crease to inflict more damage. She capped off the chase by coshing the ball over the deep-midwicket boundary, her second six, stamping an exclamation mark on an innings that also featured 11 boundaries.
But while South Africa's batting was impressive, it was set up by a bowling attack that ran through England's top and middle order with alarming regularity. Shabnim Ismail was menacing, reflected by her figures of 3 for 25 off ten overs, but there was little relief with Marizanne Kapp at the other end and the outstanding Ayabonga Khaka coming on at first change.
Knight's decision to bat first after winning the toss backfired, despite a sprightly start by Amy Jones. While there wasn't much pace in the pitch there was some movement in the air and even more off the seam, conditions which were cannily exploited by Ismail and Kapp. After Jones was beaten for pace while trying to pull Ismail and chopped on, Taylor and Knight were both out lbw, Taylor playing across the line to Ismail and Knight playing defensively straight to Kapp.
Khaka's first delivery of the match was a corker: a hint of movement through the air before the ball jagged off the seam to beat the inside of Tammy Beaumont's bat; her first spell of six overs yielded 13 runs and produced three wickets. Some of England's dismissals were worryingly soft, although the ball did appear to be stopping in the pitch a little. Sciver played across the line and found a leading edge, Danni Wyatt slashed a wide ball straight to cover and Gunn attempted to cut Chloe Tryon only to spoon her to backward point.
Brunt's steely defiance as she marshalled the tail was all that kept England from sinking as she recorded her highest score for England in any format. Generally aggressive, she and Gunn started their partnership at a crawl. But once she was in Brunt upped the pace dramatically, scoring her last 50 off 35 deliveries. She brought up her half-century by striding down the pitch to Kapp and, almost dismissively, spanking the ball through mid-on for four.
It was an impressive display but in the end it was to no avail. Almost a year after South Africa were out of the World Cup, the free-flowing tears were replaced with beaming smiles. They are a serious force in international cricket and England have a fight on their hands to win this series.