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Sri Lankan Women beat South African Women by 3 runs in the inaugural T20 World Cup match for women. Dependable Athapaththu made a solid 68 off 50 and shared 86 off 62 with Vishmi Gunaratne in the only stand of the match worth 30 or more. It was also the only time in the game that batting wasn’t made to look like walking backwards and blindfolded across thin ice. That earned Sri Lanka a total of 129/4.

Athapaththu took three consecutive fours off Nadine de Klerk in the 11th over, and in the 13th Gunaratne did the same to Shabnim Ismail – who is a former No. 1-ranked bowler playing in her 109th T20I. Gunaratne, just 17, has only 10 T20I caps. Her onslaught on Shabnim happened between midpitch conferences with Athapaththu, who played her 107th international in the format.

“I told her to focus on the ball and to not think about who is bowling,” Athapaththu said of her instructions to her less experienced partner. “She knew Shabnim was the No. 1 bowler. When she whacked the first boundary I said to her, ‘You’ve hit that boundary off the world No. 1 bowler. You can hit another boundary in this over.’ And she did. I said to her, ‘You are very good, better than the world No. 1 bowler. You can hit another boundary.'”

Athapaththu to the Sri Lankan Rescue

Three moments summed up South Africa’s performance. In the fifth over, Athapaththu came down the pitch to Ayabonga Khaka, had to change her plan when the bowler saw her coming, and nudged to fine leg. Sinalo Jafta and Chloe Tryon, at slip, set off after the ball and hauled it in just before it would have reached the cushions. Tryon did the diving and Jafta the retrieving, and as they ran back to their positions they allowed themselves a terrified high five for a job well done.

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With 20 needed off the last dozen deliveries and South Africa six down with Sune Luus and Jafta having made decent starts to their innings, Inoka Ranaweera delivered to South Africa’s captain, who heaved to long-on and set off. But hesitation and confusion saw both batters stranded, then heading for the same end, then hurtling apparently headlessly for safety at either end. Somehow, the Lankans botched the runout chances they had at both sets of stumps. “Great running,” the giant screen read, apparently not ironically. Newlands likes to think it’s special.

Eight were required off the last ball of the match, and Nonkululeko Mlaba drove Sugandika Kumari high and handsome over extra cover for four. The batters were running, anyway, and after they turned and the awful truth of the home side’s defeat was made real, Khaka sank to her haunches and lowered her head between her knees.

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A crowd of 8,402, the biggest ever to watch a women’s game in South Africa, had seen the team almost all of them supported play some of the most skittish cricket imaginable. 

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