Caribbean pre-tournament trial gives South Africa the edge

South Africa came so close to their dream of a World Cup final PA Photos

South Africa's squad

Dane van Niekerk (captain), Chloe Tryon, Laura Wolvaardt, Lizelle Lee (wk), Sune Luus, Shabnim Ismail, Masabata Klaas, Mignon du Preez, Marizanne Kapp, Trisha Chetty, Yolani Fourie, Zintle Mali, Robyn Searle, Tumi Sekhukhune, Moseline Daniels

World Cup pedigree

South Africa's best showing was in 2014, when they reached the semi-finals. Eight players from the current squad were a part of that campaign, where they faltered under pressure to lose by nine wickets against eventual runners-up England. Stage fright got the better of them then. It was against England were they let pressure get to them in the World Cup semi-final last year too, but they stretched the game into the final over. They're an improved side since, and have an experienced captain in Dane Van Niekerk, alongside a host of internationals who have played in the Women's Big Bash League. South Africa have reasons to feel confident of their chances of going into the semi-finals again, at least.

Recent T20 form

They've had the best preparation of any team heading into the World T20. They played a bilateral ODI series in the Caribbean, which they tied 1-1. In the T20Is that followed, they came back from 2-0 down to level the five-match T20I series 2-2 against the defending World T20 champions.

Top performers

South Africa lost offspinner Raisibe Ntozakhe to a suspension before the tournament, but they will be bolstered by the return of the veteran fast bowler Shabnim Ismail. Ismail is South Africa's leading wicket-taker in T20Is, with 72 wickets in 69 matches. She picked up career-best figures of 5 for 30 against India earlier this year. She has also played in every Women's World T20 since the competition's inauguration in 2009, and she's South Africa's leading wicket-taker in the tournament.

In a side with a number of experience players, teenager Laura Wolvaardt has made a mark as an explosive and bankable opener. Since her ODI debut as a 16-year old in February 2016, she has been among the top run-scorers in the format and also has the joint-most 50-plus scores. She finished as the second highest run-scorer behind van Niekerk in the limited-overs series against West Indies, with 192 runs in six innings. She scored an unbeaten 55 in the fourth T20I, on a pitch dominated by spinners, and took South Africa to an eight-wicket win to keep the series alive.

South Africa's batting has been heavily dependent on the openers, who have done the bulk of scoring in recent times along with Van Niekerk. The side will be expecting Wolvaardt to get them off to strong starts, as scoring in the middle overs could be challenging in slow conditions.

Captain and coach

Given captain van Niekerk's experience, form, and all-round ability, she will be the most important player for the side in this tournament. She is not only their leading run-scorer in T20Is with 1505 runs in 69 matches, but also their highest wicket-taking spinner with 49 wickets. She also has the most runs for South Africa since the last World T20. In spin-friendly conditions, her legspin could make quite an impact. She was the leading run-scorer in the limited-overs tour of West Indies, where she averaged 70 across four innings.

Hilton Moreeng, who has been with the team for nearly six years now, has coached South Africa at five major tournaments. He has been a key factor in their advancement and has mentored some of the senior players in the current squad all through their international careers. Ahead of the South Africa's departure to the Caribbean, he echoed captain van Niekerk's thoughts, saying they were capable of beating any team on their day.

Where they will finish

South Africa are placed in Group A alongside England, West Indies, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, with all the group matches scheduled in St Lucia. While they've struggled against big teams in world tournaments, they're also the most likely to surprise, especially considering their preparation ahead of the tournament.