Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha
The performances of Dane van Niekerk, Marizanne Kapp and Shabnim Ismail in the Oval Invincibles' run to the Hundred title, ahead of South Africa's tour to the Caribbean, have boosted the national side's World Cup preparations. This was the view of South Africa head coach Hilton Moreeng, who also welcomed back designated captain van Niekerk and allrounder Chloe Tryon from injuries.
"In coaching terms, we call it ideal," Moreeng said of the look of the South Africa squad ahead of its departure for Antigua on Monday. "That's what we'd always love to have as coaches. We know it's not always in our control as certain things happen like injuries. Now we welcome two members back in the squad: Dane van Niekerk, the captain, and Chloe Tryon [though there is] the omission of Anneke Bosch, who had a successful tour to India but misses out due to injury.
"Also, what has been good is that players have been to the Hundred now and how they contributed. You could see even those that played in the final - how they dominated on the day. It shows the quality they have and we, as a team, feel in having Dane in the squad and, also Chloe - the experience and the dynamic they bring into the team. As a team, it just makes us a more forceful unit to deal with and we're very happy with their achievements as a team."
van Niekerk, the Invincibles captain, was the top scorer in the women's Hundred, with 259 runs, in addition to taking eight wickets with the ball. This, despite having not played any international cricket since the 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia because of a back injury that ruled her out of the series against Pakistan and India. Her captaincy smarts, especially in the playoffs, also played a critical role in the Invincibles emerging the inaugural champions. It was this combination of skills, Moreeng said, that would make South Africa a more well-rounded side as van Niekerk takes back captaincy from Sune Luus.
"It has been a bit frustrating for both the country and the player," Moreeng said. "We, as management, worked closely with the injuries she had. It's been a setback and frustrated [us] throughout this period. It's just very exciting to see her back on the field because you know what she brings: she is an all-round cricketer and a very good cricket brain, and we know once she's on the field how she leads a team.
"Sune also handled it very well when the opportunity was given to her. That also it shows that when the youngsters are in the squad how they are learning, how they're stepping up when you have these kinds of injuries, how even Wolvaardt had a chance to [lead, on the India tour]. [It proved that] These opportunities, when they come, people can take the role."
Moreeng, who has been the side's head coach since 2012, said the participation of the seven South Africa players - Shabnim Ismail, Kapp, van Niekerk, Lizelle Lee, Tryon, Mignon du Preez, and Laura Wolvaardt - in the Hundred allowed for observing how they had been shaping up for the international season ahead.
"From the coaching and management point of view, we've always been following [the South African contingent] while we were preparing the side [for the West Indies tour]," Moreeng said. "Anything we can pick up we can keep improving as a team. So, overall, we're very happy with what we've seen.
"The players look in good nick. Their timing as well as performances have been very good, just on the eve of a very important tour for us as a team, so we are very happy how we're settling now. The adjusting for now is to just make sure we everything as we can and keep, as controlled as we can be."
Moreeng stressed the South Africans' showing in high-pressure matches at the Hundred would bode well for the national team as it prepares for the upcoming ODI World Cup to be held in March-April 2022 in New Zealand.
"If we look at the history of Shabnim, Marizanne, Dane, and even Mignon also - they have been involved those finals at the best level but not in the capacity that we had the last weekend," Moreeng said. "Also, with that, the last time we played as a team in front of such a crowd, in such a pressure game, it was the 2017 World Cup [semi-final in Bristol]. That experience, as we can see, how they started to handle that and they've grown from that.
"It's still a painful experience for all of us who have been part of that [defeat in the semi-final of the] 2017 World Cup. Hence, the preparation towards this World Cup is to make sure we get through that hurdle of the semi-final because we as a team and the players have played extremely well to get into the semi-finals. It's just that last hurdle to get ourselves into the final and we can take it from there."
South Africa, who are yet to win a series in the West Indies, will get three days to acclimatise to the conditions after serving a three-day quarantine upon arrival in Antigua. Moreeng said the tour, comprising three T20Is and five ODIs, will be the perfect opportunity to implement the takeaways from their previous visit of the Caribbean, in 2018, when they drew the ODI series against the hosts 1-1 and the T20I series 2-2 and were knocked out of the T20 World Cup in the league stage.
"The good thing for us [on this tour is] we start with T20 cricket," Moreeng said. "So players from the Hundred are well aware of that and players that will be headed home will be prepared accordingly...because we could arrange for slower wickets [in the lead-up to this tour]. Our preparations building up over the last five months have been very good.
"The key for both teams will be, [in terms of] the ODIs, they are preparing for the qualifiers and we are preparing for the World Cup, so it's going to be key for us is to improve. It's going to be slow wickets; they play well on slow wickets and it's for us to be able to adapt to the slow wickets.
"The good indication we had is our last tour, of India - our batters adapted to that and we need to continue on that and then make sure we complement that with our bowlers and fielding overall because we feel that the last time we were there we did not bat as well as we could although the bowlers did a really good job and kept us in the game. It's now for us as a batting unit to make sure we counter that because we know we have to face a lot of slow bowling and the wickets are not going to get any quicker."