On the surface, it may not have seemed like a fair contest.
England had won four games from four, priding themselves on their aggressive approach, and were being touted as the only team capable of beating reigning champions Australia.
South Africa’s build-up was shrouded in controversy when they dropped their star all-rounder and captain Dane van Niekerk, before they lost their opening game to minnows Sri Lanka.
But an underdog with nothing to lose is a dangerous thing, as England learned when they were knocked out of the Women’s T20 World Cup following a tense six-run defeat by the hosts in their semi-final.
England were still brave, and they had periods of control. They lost the toss and restricted South Africa to just 14 runs after four miserly overs.
Even after a poor fielding display, they were on top at 132-3, chasing 165, until a devastating collapse of 5-26.
It was an underwhelming performance after a year in which this England side have failed to take the next step.
They were heavily beaten by Australia in the Women’s Ashes and 50-over World Cup final last year, before they finished fourth in the Commonwealth Games.
As the second best team in the world after Australia, anything other than reaching the final is disappointing for England.
Where did they fall short against South Africa?
England buckle on the big occasion
England were heavily favoured for good reason – in the group they thrashed West Indies, Ireland and Pakistan, setting a world-record 213-5 against the latter.
They saw off their main challenge in India and avoided meeting Australia in the semi-finals.
Unlike the 50-over World Cup, where they scraped through the group, England had done pretty much everything right.
But against South Africa, they seemingly had no answers for Tazmin Brits’ power-hitting, Shabnim Ismail’s searing pace or Ayabonga Khaka’s nagging accuracy.
They became rattled when put under pressure, making mistakes in the field and stalling in the chase.
When Australia faced similar adversity in their semi-final, as India seemed to be edging towards victory, every player remained calm and composed, while maintaining their high standards before ultimately winning by five runs.
Still searching for the right balance
England are not an entirely young or inexperienced team – eight of the XI played in last year’s 50-over World Cup.
Their batting success has been built around the top order, particularly the exemplary Nat Sciver-Brunt. When she fell for 40, England’s middle-to-lower order was tested for the first time, chasing their highest total of the tournament, and they looked a batter light.
The balance of the side is in question – bowling all-rounder Charlie Dean had a tough outing with the ball and batted at 10, her role somewhat unclear.
England maybe should have played another seamer in the semi-final but were understandably apprehensive to bring in Freya Davies, who played only one group game, or Kate Cross, who did not appear at all in the tournament.
Freya Kemp’s absence with a back injury hampered England’s plans, because the 17-year-old fast-bowling power-hitter would have provided the perfect foil for Nat Sciver-Brunt’s all-round ability.
It will take England time to digest a difficult day, but they have a huge opportunity in this summer’s Ashes against Australia to prove themselves and their dynamic brand of cricket.
“We’ve entertained and pushed the game forward, which is what we want to do,” said captain Heather Knight.
“This loss certainly will not define us as a team, but we wanted to make the final and there was a real belief in the side that we could go all the way.”
Katherine Sciver-Brunt’s frustrations boil over
For a World Cup campaign built on positivity, the scenes at the end of England’s fielding innings were overwhelmingly negative.
After a brilliant opening spell in the powerplay, Katherine Sciver-Brunt was taken out of the attack and saved until the end – a potentially risky move given the fast bowler had conceded 19 runs from the last over against India.
Here she leaked 18 runs in the last over, including bowling a chest-high no-ball that was hit for six, after having become visibly irritated in the preceding overs.
Sciver-Brunt is a feisty player renowned for wearing her heart on her sleeve, but few could argue against the view she went too far as she was seen shouting at her team-mates for misfields, swapping fielders without first consulting Knight and punching the floor in frustration.
“I know she is passionate but that is not acceptable,” said former England spinner Alex Hartley on BBC Test Match Special. “She is putting more pressure on her team-mates.
“It makes you more nervous. It makes you physically shake. There were a few girls that looked fed up and intimidated.”
The question over Sciver-Brunt’s place in the side, after a stellar international career that has spanned nearly two decades, lingers – especially as she no longer plays domestic cricket, has retired from Tests and been rested for recent one-day international series.
“I don’t know if it’s Katherine’s last game for England,” said Knight. “She’s still bowling very well so we’ll see what happens.
“She’s very passionate and maybe tries a bit too hard, but it’s probably unfair to look at that one over in isolation, during the whole innings there were things we could have done better.”