Van Niekerk is optimistic about her side’s chances, saying exposure and on the odd occasion victories against higher-ranked teams recently has built belief ahead of the showpiece, which this year carries prize-money of $2 million (about R26 million).
“I’ve never see the girls work as hard as they have the last few years,” said Van Niekerk. “This team want to win, we want to show the world and our country that we are a force to be reckoned with. We’ve come a long way, and that makes the bond a lot stronger.”
The players have benefited from Cricket South Africa’s increased focus on their play, which is as a result of the sponsorship from Momentum, which allowed CSA to provide contracts to the players starting three years ago. “With the contracts, the girls can concentrate on cricket.”
The results, certainly from an individual perspective, have been notable. Five players are ranked among the top 20 batsmen, there are also five bowlers in the world’s top 20 – including the world’s No 1 bowler Marizanne Kapp, who is also, along with Van Niekerk and Suné Luus, ranked among the top 10 all-rounders.
The players have proved themselves capable of mixing it with the best and in the last few years have beaten all their major rivals for the World Cup, with the exception of Australia, at least once. Consistency has been lacking and if they are to win the World Cup, that must change.
In 28 ODIs dating back to last October, South Africa have won 13 times and lost on 14 occasions, with one tie coming against Australia in Sydney.
“Consistency is one of our weaker areas, but we’ve found a good combination in the batting line-up. We can go with players who are performing, not just one or two players. We can pick our in-form batters.”
Van Niekerk missed the quadrangular warm-up tournament in Potchefstroom recently with an ankle injury, but said yesterday she’d be fit for the England showpiece.
“I’m not 100 percent fit, but I will be. I’m not missing this World Cup for my life.”
Being on the sidelines offered her an “outside” perspective on players performances, which she found valuable.
“It was nice to get some perspective from outside because as captain sometimes, you miss stuff. There were a lot of things that I could take back home, stuff I never thought about but now that I’ve seen it, we can try and implement them on the field.”
South Africa open their World Cup campaign against Pakistan at Leicester on June 25. The tournament works on a round-robin format, with all eight sides facing each other once, and the top four teams will qualify for the semi-finals.
With the standard of the women’s game improving markedly in recent years, Van Niekerk believes it won’t simply be a case of everyone waiting for Australia and England to qualify for the final at Lords on July 23.
“I think it will be the the closest World Cup I’ve been a part of."
Proteas Women World Cup Squad
Dané van Niekerk (captain), Trisha Chetty, Moseline Daniels, Nadine de Klerk, Mignon du Preez, Shabnim Ismail, Ayabonga Khaka, Marizanne Kapp, Masabata Klaas, Lizelle Lee, Suné Luus, Raisibe Ntozakhe, Andrie Steyn, Chloe Tryon, Laura Wolvaardt.