JOHANNESBURG – From smoking weed, to Makhaya Ntini taking 13 wickets, and AB de Villiers celebrating a century by running to the toilet or Mark Boucher taking his 500th dismissal, touring the West Indies has never been dull for South Africa.
Trips to the Caribbean have largely been successful ventures for generations of South African teams. Aside from the one-off Test in Bridgetown in 1991 when Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, blew up a planned party with a couple of devastating bursts on the last morning, the Proteas have reigned over the Windies, winning the other three series’ between the teams and losing just one other Test since.
South Africa usually had the more superior team as well, while the West Indies over that period were often too reliant on Brian Lara or Shivnarine Chanderpaul for runs.
This year’s two-match Test series that will be played at the Daren Sammy Cricket Stadium in St Lucia, will be between teams that are more evenly matched than has been the case in previous series’s in the Caribbean.
Both captains are new to the job; Kraigg Brathwaite was only permanently installed in March after Jason Holder’s decision not to tour Bangladesh because of ‘bio bubble fatigue.’ Dean Elgar was appointed in the same month, and this series will be his first as the Proteas’ long term captain.
Brathwaite’s side probably has more wiggle room in terms of an outcome in the series. While both teams are in developmental stages and lack experience, the West Indies’s triumph in Bangladesh, with a unit which had played very few Tests, was uplifting.
South Africa have had an extended rebuilding phase, not helped by the off field shenanigans of the administrators, which no matter how anyone tries to spin it, was a distraction in the Proteas dressing room.
Still results matter, and South Africa’s have been poor, with Cricket SA’s Director of Cricket, Graeme Smith, not mincing his words, in stating that the team’s management – specifically head coach Boucher – is under pressure on this tour.
The Proteas have won three out of eight Tests since Boucher took over as head coach, with the side’s batting a serious concern. That heaps extra pressure on Elgar, the team’s most senior player now and fellow opener, Aiden Markram, arguably the most in-form batsman in South Africa to provide some good starts.
Elgar has mentioned that Keegan Petersen is the favourite to slot into the batting order following Faf du Plessis’ retirement, while Quinton de Kock will go in at No 6, a position far better suited to him, and hopefully one in which he’ll remain for the long-term after far too much vacillating in recent years.
Whatever combination takes to the field for Thursday’s first Test, it’s critical that the lessons from the Pakistan tour be implemented. There Boucher mentioned more than once how the players understood the message being given to them at team meetings, but putting into practice what they were hearing proved beyond them.
There will be a heightened awareness about batting collapses, and preventing them happening again and having Temba Bavuma and De Kock at 5 and 6, will hopefully provide a stronger spine in the middle order.
It is essential, as Elgar mentioned prior to the team’s departure, that South Africa start posting substantial first innings totals again. The first innings of 621 against Sri Lanka in last summer’s Boxing Day Test, was only the fourth time South Africa had surpassed 400 in an innings in the last three years. Those feeble returns, put extra pressure on what is normally a potent bowling unit.
South Africa certainly has options in terms of pace, and definitely in the spin department, with four spinners at the selectors’ disposal in the extended squad.
However, the selectors haven’t always found the right balance for the attack. Picking three spinners as they were set to do against Pakistan in Karachi earlier this year, was wrong. Wiaan Mulder’s form and fitness allows for some variety in the attack – three frontline quicks and one spinner, or if conditions dictate, two spinners and two frontline seamers.
The Proteas had their first training session in St Lucia yesterday after spending three days in quarantine. This is a critical tour for South African cricket, with the sport desperately needing a boost with some positive results from the senior men’s team.
Kraigg Brathwaite (capt), Jermaine Blackwood, Nkrumah Bonner, Darren Bravo, Roston Chase, Rahkeem Cornwall, Joshua Da Silva, Shannon Gabriel, Jahmar Hamilton, Jason Holder, Shai Hope, Alzarri Joseph, Kyle Mayers, Kieran Powell, Kemar Roach, Jayden Seales, Jomel Warrican
Dean Elgar (capt), Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, 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.
1st Test 10-14 June: St Lucia (start: 4pm SA time)
2nd Test 18-22 June: St Lucia (4pm)