Earlier in the year, South Africa toured Pakistan for the first time in fourteen years. A similar thing has occurred in terms of the last time SA played a Test series in the West Indies; it has now been eleven years. As on the Pakistan trip, not a single player in the current Proteas squad has played Test Cricket in the West Indies, a massive disadvantage. This squad needs help and the Pakistan series exposed that, a situation exacerbated by minimal coaching staff.
The similarities end there as the two teams involved are at opposite ends of growth. West Indies are currently ranked in sixth place in the world and South Africa seventh, but WI have gone unbeaten in their last two series and while SA may have won the last series they played, they had lost three series in a row before that. With what has been happening off the field at CSA, you would be brave to suggest WI were not favourites.
At the time of writing the West Indies are playing intra-squad matches to decide what squad they want for the test series. With that in mind, let’s have a look at players I think will be the ones to watch for each team.
SA Test Squad
Dean Elgar (captain), Temba Bavuma (vice-captain), Quinton de Kock (wicketkeeper), Sarel Erwee, Beuran Hendricks, George Linde, Keshav Maharaj, Lungi Ngidi, Aiden Markram, Wiaan Mulder, Anrich Nortje, Keegan Peterson, Kagiso Rabada, Rassie van der Dussen, Kyle Verreynne, Tabraiz Shamsi, Lizaad Williams, Prenelan Subrayen, Marco Jansen.
Players to Watch
The Proteas new Test captain Dean Elgar will be under pressure to perform in this series in more ways than one. South Africa cannot be using excuses anymore, it is time they perform on the field. We already know he is happy to occupy the crease when the situation calls for it but the fact that he averages 55.33 in Bangladesh, 51.00 in New Zealand and 41.16 in Sri Lanka shows that he has the sort of game to perform on slower pitches as is now the case in the West Indies. More importantly, he has averaged over 45 in the last two seasons when most of the national side have been struggling to average 40.
Things have changed quite significantly for Temba Bavuma as he has been named the white-ball captain, a consequence that CSA now sees him as one of the senior members of the side. While the team struggled in the main on the tour of Pakistan, Bavuma averaged 54 on the tour and looked like he might well have found his place in the team, at least for the time being. With no Faf Du Plessis, after his retirement from this format, Temba Bavuma becomes the best player of spin in the side, which will be crucial on the slower pitches in the Caribbean where he will probably have to play plenty of overs from the likes of Rakeen Cornwall. Temba Bavuma likes to work hard when things are tough and building an innings is when he is at his best, something that will be needed on the slower pitches of the Caribbean. Expect to see him bringing out the sweep on a regular basis on this tour.
This past season, Keshav has been in magnificent form with the ball in domestic cricket back in South Africa, so it makes sense that he will be a force in the series in the Caribbean as the Kingsmead pitch is not all that different to some in the Caribbean. He finished as the leading wicket-taker in the 4 Day Series, where he bowled with lovely drift and was very consistent with line and length. It is well known that he is currently the best spinner in the country, even if Shamsi is knocking on that door. Mark Boucher will be expecting him to have a major say in what happens in the series. At 31 he knows his game very well and has reached the prime age for a spinner to perform at his best; so will be expected to take wickets.
Fun fact: He is fourteen wickets behind Paul Adams from being the Proteas leading spinner as wicket taker in Test cricket, post isolation.
The man who will probably be the most likely in the current West Indies to keep the South African bowling attack at arm’s length and frustrate them for the Test Series is Brathwaite. He has just completed a somewhat unsuccessful, short county stint with Gloucestershire, where he averaged 26.81 with only one fifty in the 11 innings he played. However, his numbers for the West Indies so far this year are a lot more impressive with an average of 48.25, so he will be crucial if the West Indies can win the series. He has been the rock of the side for a good while now and will know he needs to perform if the West Indies are to do well.
This man is everybody’s favourite cricketer right now. He is a joy to watch with both bat and ball and without a doubt will provide a certain entertainment. A lot has been said about him off the field but his talent on the field is not in doubt, so I hope that is what will be the focus in this series. He gets lovely drift and bounce with his height as a spinner, and I suspect he will cause many problems to the South African batters. His prowess with the bat may not have been significant stats-wise just yet but he has contributed with two very impressive fifties earlier in the year against Sri Lanka. One other thing that Rakeen will bring to this series is a certain razzamatazz because he gives the impression that he genuinely loves to play the game. The fact that he has done quite well with the bat so far means there is now a balance between the top six batters and the tail of the WI side; an all-rounder of this sort is something they have been missing for years.
Kyle is one of the most exciting talents in the West Indies batting lineup after a magnificent 210 on his test debut and has subsequently been rewarded with his first central red-ball contract, so he has been given significant backing. He is an attractive batsman who likes to take the attack to the bowlers rather than occupy the crease. Surprisingly, his average in first-class cricket, even with that mammoth test debut is only a fraction over 33. It will be most interesting how he does against Maharaj and Linde if he plays, considering how he played the Bangladesh spinners earlier in the year. His Test career is just beginning, so it is quite hard to judge him, but I suspect he might have the game to do well in this series. Unfortunately for him, he was out on the first ball in the Windies warm-up fixture.
Saint Lucia Pitch
Only seven Tests have been played at the ground in sixteen years so far and in that time the West Indies have faced only one non-Asian side, so it is a small sample size. Interestingly, West Indies have won only one of those Tests.
Shannon Gabriel 21 wickets @ 21 and Kemar Roach 17 wickets @ 17.94 have very impressive numbers at the ground for both Tests, but I do feel spin will have a major say at the end of the day. You only need to look at the Windies warm-up game where, at the end of Day 1, six wickets had gone to spin and there were two dropped catches off spin bowling as well. Both Chase and Warrican bowled with accuracy and were able to get a fair amount of turn.
In conclusion, I would say the West Indies are on the up in this format and will be slight favourites, while South Africa are still currently stuck in a quagmire, unsure of what direction the side should take. The West Indies are also very well suited with their strong pace bowling attack and will be a real challenge, providing they remain fit throughout the series. SA will also be leaning heavily on their bowling attack but the fact none of them has played Test Cricket in the Caribbean before means they start on the backfoot. They desperately need their batters to produce the goods to win the series.