Andrew Voerman is a Stuff cricket writer.
ANALYSIS: Fine margins have been the theme of the Women’s Cricket World Cup so far.
Five matches have been decided by 12 runs or fewer, and two by three wickets or fewer.
The White Ferns have been on the losing end in two of those seven matches, while England have been on the losing end in three.
Those two sides are now set to meet in the biggest match of the tournament so far on Sunday, after South Africa sneaked home against New Zealand on Thursday night.
* New Zealand beaten by South Africa in women’s cricket World Cup in Hamilton
* White Ferns out to inflict South Africa’s first loss of World Cup in Hamilton
* Champions England beat India to stay alive in women’s cricket World Cup
* Rachael Haynes, Ellyse Perry star as Australia stay unbeaten at Women’s Cricket World Cup
The winner of their match at Eden Park in Auckland will remain alive in the semifinal race, and their chances will be boosted if Australia beat India or, in a less likely scenario, Bangladesh beat the West Indies beforehand.
The loser will be left to clutch at the straws of mathematical possibilities, if indeed there is anything to clutch at at all.
It doesn’t get much bigger than that, as far as stakes go, but both the White Ferns and England will be wondering how it came to this.
The defending World Cup champions’ struggles since arriving in Australia for the Ashes in mid-January have been well-documented.
But after six one-day international losses in a row – including three by 12 runs, seven runs, and three wickets to Australia, the West Indies, and South Africa at the World Cup – they might have turned a corner with their win over India on Wednesday.
They will certainly head into Sunday’s match in a better place than the White Ferns, who ran the Proteas close at Seddon Park, but ultimately came up short, just as they did in their tournament opener against the West Indies.
A week ago they left Hamilton having turned in a complete performance to beat India, but they haven’t managed one in their two matches since.
Thirty overs of good work with the ball came undone in a hurry against Australia at the Basin Reserve in Wellington on Sunday, and they collapsed in a heap from there against the tournament favorites.
On Thursday, it was 35 overs of good work with the bat that was wasted, as they slumped from 167-3 to 228 all out inside 48 overs batting first, then took 35 overs to really come to life in the field.
South Africa needed 70 runs off 90 balls with eight wickets in hand at that stage, but took until the fourth-to-last ball to get there while losing six of them as the hosts cranked the pressure up.
Melie Kerr, Hannah Rowe, and Frankie Mackay all played big roles in the fightback, as did captain Sophie Devine, who earlier made 93, but the hole they had dug themselves proved to be too deep in the end.
Aside from anything else, they can’t let themselves fall so far behind on Sunday. They will need to lift for sure, but they aren’t a million miles away.
If you believe in an infinite number of universes, the ones where the White Ferns and England prevailed in their close games wouldn’t look too dissimilar to the one where they didn’t.
Yet the reality is that is the one they find themselves in.
The silver lining for both teams is that they will look at each other and think: We can win this.
Come Monday, only one will have done it. The other will be getting ready for a post-mortem.