Momentum Proteas fast bowler, Ayabonga Khaka, will be aiming to add to her wicket tally as South Africa take on Pakistan in their second ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup match in Tauranga on Friday, 11 March 2022.
In their first encounter against Bangladesh, Khaka became the fifth South African woman to claim 100 ODI wickets, following in the footsteps of teammates Shabnim Ismail, Dané van Niekerk, Marizanne Kapp and Suné Luus.
The 29-year-old reached the milestone in 74 matches, thereby becoming the second-fastest South African, after Ismail (68), to the mark.
Khaka’s probing spell of 10-3-32-4 in Dunedin helped the Momentum Proteas defend a sub-par total of 209 to register a 32-run win.
After Bangladesh got off to a steady start with the bat, quite expertly tackling the pace and swing of Ismail and Kapp, it was Khaka’s relentless accuracy and subtle variation that got them back into the game.
She picked up three wickets in the space of two overs reducing Bangladesh from 69 for no loss to 72 for 3, before coming back into the attack to remove their most experienced batter to further dent their hopes.
Her returns saw her named Player of the Match, continuing what has been an excellent little period for the right-arm seamer. Khaka came into the tournament on the back of a Player of the Series performance in the four-match ODI series against West Indies in which she picked up 10 wickets at an average of 13.30, including a maiden five-fer.
Having taken a few years to cement her place in the squad, Khaka has now become a vital cog in the Proteas’ bowling line-up. A member of what is often described as the “best pace attack in the world”, Khaka usually flies under the radar; the more fiery and flamboyant Kapp and Ismail routinely grabbing the headlines. But of late, Khaka’s consistency has demanded attention.
What has stood out about Khaka is her versatility with the ball; she can bowl at any point in the innings: with new ball, in the middle overs and at the death. In the absence of either Kapp or Ismail, Khaka has opened the bowling, keeping batters tied up with her hooping inswingers.
However, her main role in the South African line-up has been that of a holding bowler. She comes in the middle overs, attacks the stumps and usually dries up the run-scoring. Her consistency allows the Hilton Moreeng-led side to go on an all-out attack with their new ball pair: if they get on a roll and run through the opposition top order, Khaka comes in and further tightens the screws; and if things go wrong, they have Khaka as their safety net. For the opposition, there’s really no let-up.
The right-armer’s subtle variations – a very good leg-cutter, yorker and slower ball – make her hard to line up, and probably explain why she is one of the most effective middle-overs (11-40) bowlers in the world.
“Ayabonga complements our bowling attack very well and she has been one of the unsung heroes of this attack,” head coach Moreeng said in the post-match press conference on Saturday, 5 March.
“She is led by our two experienced bowlers in Shabnim Ismail and Marizanne Kapp. Masabata Klaas is also growing in stature as a cricket player but I think Ayabonga is one if those consistent cricketers.
“Ayabonga is economical and she has worked extremely hard around her game to make sure that whichever surface she gets to bowl on she can adapt to. The milestone she has achieved is a reward for the hard work she has been putting in over the years,” he added.
“She shows professionalism around everything she does as a cricketer; she is a good student of the game, she assesses conditions and opposition very well and that gives her the edge on days when the chips are down.”
In 2018, Khaka suffered a career-threatening shoulder injury which kept her out of the game for over a year. The layoff couldn’t have come at a worse time for the fast bowler who seemed to be at the peak of her powers, taking as many as 63 international wickets between January 2016 and July 2018.
Since her return in September 2019, she has almost perfectly settled back into a rhythm, as if picking up from where she left off before her shoulder gave way. And what is most extraordinary about her return is that despite the 15-month absence, Khaka has now taken the most ODI wickets since the 2017 World Cup in England.
If South Africa are to live up to the tag of ‘favourites’ and book their place in the knockout phase of the tournament, Khaka will be expected to play a big role in that progression – her accuracy and guile key to tying batters down. In the absence of van Niekerk, the control she provides in the middle overs will be even more important.
Photo 1 Caption: Momentum Proteas fast bowler, Ayabonga Khaka, will be aiming to add to her wicket tally as South Africa take on Pakistan in their second ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup match. Photo: ICC Media (Twitter)