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Nonkululeko Mlaba. Picture: MIKE HEWITT
Nonkululeko Mlaba. Picture: MIKE HEWITT

Nonkululeko Mlaba: social media lover — check; stylist — check; tone-setter — err, check? 

In a Proteas team featuring Marizanne Kapp and Shabnim Ismail — the presumed tone-setters — it was Mlaba, cropped bleached hairdo and toothy grin, who started the process of repaying a boisterous Boland Park crowd for their unrelenting support on Monday night.

SA left Paarl as victors by 65 runs against a shell-shocked New Zealand, whose captain Sophie Devine was struggling to understand how her side had delivered two such dreadful back-to-back displays against Australia and then SA. 

For the home team the match provided a much-needed boost for their self-belief after their own horror showing in the tournament’s opening match against Sri Lanka at Newlands last Friday.

Match Highlights of T20 World Cup 2023, South Africa Women v New Zealand Women.

Despite a scrappy surface — being used for the second match in a row on Monday — SA’s total of 132/6 still looked shy of a good one. It should certainly have been more given the start, in which they scored 44 runs in the power play, something player of the match Chloe Tryon acknowledged. 

It demanded a good start with the ball, which is precisely what Mlaba delivered. She was handed the new ball, with SA having played close attention to England’s earlier success against Ireland when their three spinners shared eight wickets among them.

“She bowls a lot, tries to work on her game as much as she can, I love the fire that’s burning inside of her and I love the tone she sets with the ball,” Tryon said of Mlaba.

The pair hail from Durban, so often work together, with Tryon taking particular pride in her mentoring role. “It’s really nice to see her blossoming in front of me.”

Mlaba claimed a wicket with her fourth delivery, drawing Bernadine Bezuidenhout out of her crease and giving Sinalo Jaftha, who had an excellent evening with the gloves, the fifth stumping of her career. 

An even bigger blow followed at the start of her next over when she slid one through the defences of New Zealand’s best batter, Suzie Bates, to leave the tourists on 7/2. She set off on a joyous “mini Tahir”, dragging Jaftha along with her, much to the delight of the Paarl audience. 

Her third wicket, trapping Lea Tahuhu lbw, led to a slick dance move that would not have been out of place in Rihanna’s Super Bowl show. At that point the game was effectively done as a contest.

“She wants to be No 1,” Tryon said of her 22-year-old teammate, the No 2-ranked bowler in the T20 format. 

What Mlaba’s performance does is help relieve some of the pressure on Kapp and Ismail. Often opposing teams might look to just see them off and attack the rest of the SA bowlers, but they will be hesitant to do that with the kind of form Mlaba is showing of late. 

There are still concerns about the batting. Tryon’s 40 and especially her sixth-wicket partnership of 47 with Nadine de Klerk were critical in getting SA to what appeared a par total.

“I just think we need to take a bit of responsibility, bat a bit longer and build partnerships. I still felt the way some of us got out was silly,” said Tryon.

“It’s small things, we have a quality batting line-up and it’s about making sure we put our heads down and work as hard as we can, especially towards the back end of the innings.”

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