South Africa skipper Sune Luus has termed leading the country to the final of the T20 World Cup the single biggest achievement of her career, to date, and has revealed that the magnitude of what she and her side have achieved has not sunk in yet.
Being hosts, South Africa entered the competition with a decent amount of hype but many wrote the side off post their shock defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka in the curtain-raiser. However, the Luus-led side remained unflustered, believed in themselves and eventually created history by becoming the first ever South African side in history — Men or Women — to reach the final of a World Cup. On Sunday, they’ll be taking on Meg Lanning’s Australia — reigning champions — in Cape Town where they’ll stand a chance to etch their name in the history books forever.
Speaking on the eve of the final, Luus attested that she’ll look back on this World Cup fondly notwithstanding what unfolds on Sunday.
“100% (the proudest achievement of my career),” Luus said.
“I think, like we said, I think no South African captain has done it before and I think it hasn't really sunk in yet. I think I've been - I got a lot of messages last night and over the course of the day and I think it's starting to sink in and every time I open my phone, I just get more emotional every time I see a message.
“I think, no matter what happens tomorrow, I feel extremely proud and I'm so proud of the team and, you know, the management team and what we've done. So, it's been an incredible journey and an incredible tournament.”
On Sunday, Luus will become the first ever South African captain — male or female — to toss the coin in a World Cup final but it was only weeks prior to the mega event that she was officially named skipper.
Luus had been standing-in for Dane van Niekerk for a significant period, but being the incumbent, the latter was expected to take over captaincy if and when she regained fitness. But the ‘when’ never came about and van Niekerk was rather controversially dropped after she missed the two-kilometre running benchmark by 18 seconds.
Luus, after replacing van Niekerk as skipper, was caught in the crossfire and had to endure the wrath of some fans, but at the press conference she revealed that she paid no heed to the backlash. Luus thanked the teammates and the support staff for unconditionally backing her.
“Yeah, I think the role of captaincy hasn't been easy over the last couple of years. Obviously, being a standing captain for however long that was, and to be given the official captain status just before the World Cup, I think it was always going to be difficult, filling the shoes of Dane,” Luus said.
“She's done an incredible job over the last couple of years, but I think where the game's going and the team we have at the moment, it's a very young squad and it was very exciting to see talent and players coming in.
“It's leading a new generation. I think players have come and gone and I think we're just looking forward and I think that's the one thing that's kept me going.
“I think it's just to know that there's always going to be backlash, there's always going to be people not wanting you in this position and I guess that's just sport and that's media and whatever people are going to say, but I think the results have spoken for itself and I think the team has stayed motivated no matter what distractions has come our way.
“So, I think just sticking together as a team and I think I have a great support system as well. The team's been backing me a hundred percent and I think more than that, I can't ask for. I think if you don't have a team and a management team supporting you, then you have challenges, but I think from my perspective and in my shoes, the team's been a hundred percent behind me, the management staff's been a hundred percent behind me and I think everyone outside that circle, their opinions and what they think doesn't really matter.”
Luus also revealed that, heading into the World Cup, the team wanted to not just do well on the field but inspire the whole country with their showing. That, she believes, has already been achieved.
“Yeah, it's been an amazing tournament so far, I think on and off the field I think, as far as cricket is concerned, we achieving our goals that we want to, that’s awesome. And as far as off the field things go, we’re also doing the job we wanted to do.
“I think the goal for us was to inspire the nation and to get women's cricket in South Africa on the map and for young girls and boys to pick up their bat and ball and I guess just for women's sport in general in South Africa to be raised and to be on the map as well. So, I think in terms of that we definitely doing the job. Hopefully tomorrow can just be another stepping stone to that.”
Many a time in her career, even at home, Luus has had to play in front of largely empty stands but that won’t be the case come Sunday — people are queuing up for tickets and there’s a never-seen-before anticipation. The South Africa skipper revealed that she’s been taken aback by the buzz that the World Cup has generated, and claimed that she never thought she’d see Women’s Cricket taking the country by storm.
“I think it's something we never thought would happen in our country, you know people standing in queues to buy tickets for a women's cricket match. I think that's, just where we are as a country at the moment and that's where you know the women's sport is growing to and I think it's something very very special, and I'm hoping you know once this World Cup is finished and we play normal series and normal matches in South Africa, the crowd won't be any different, and the vibe and the positive energies will be the same,” the 27-year-old said.
All that’s standing between Luus, South Africa and a maiden World Cup is Australia, two-time defending champions who’ve lost a solitary T20I in the past two years. In fact, the Proteas have already been beaten once by Lanning’s side in this World Cup, that too comprehensively.
Reflecting on the group stage encounter — in which South Africa scored 124 — Luus said that her side were at least 30-40 short with the bat and insisted that, come Sunday, the key will be to take the game as deep as possible.
“Yeah, I think obviously looking back at that game we were 20, 30, 40 runs short. We know they have a very strong batting line-up and they're batting extremely deep. So, I think for us tomorrow, whether we bat first or bowl first, we're going to have to put up a good fight.
“I think, game's not over till the last ball - we know they're going to keep fighting. We saw it in their semi-final against India. They’ve shown their class there. So, I think it’s for us to take it as deep as possible, whether we got 120 on the board or 190, I think just take it as deep as possible. And you just never know.”