JOHANNESBURG – West Indies coach Phil Simmons expects the battle between his side’s fast bowlers, and South Africa’s potent set of quicks to be the deciding factor in the two Test series between the teams starting in St Lucia on Thursday.
The conditions the teams will encounter, seem unlikely to be what the tourists had anticipated when they departed Johannesburg last week. “There’s been a bit of bounce. It’s been different to what people thought it would be,” South African fast bowler Lungi Ngidi said after the team’s two-day practice match.
Last week, Dean Elgar said the data the team had received prior to departure suggested a ‘slow and low,’ pitch at the Daren Sammy Cricket Ground, which will host both matches in the series. Perhaps no one was listening to wrist-spinner, Tabraiz Shamsi, who shortly after his captain spoke said the pitch was one of the quickest in the Caribbean.
Shamsi is one of a handful of Proteas squad members with playing experience from the region having spent a couple of years playing in the Caribbean Premier League.
A quick pitch will suit all the fast bowlers nicely.
“Both teams, their strongest suit is the bowling,” said Simmons. “That’s where the competition lies in the series. Which team bowls better and which team holds their catches should come out on top.”
Both teams lack the kind of dynamism with the bat that they once had. Besides Quinton de Kock, who’s Test form has been poor lately, there’s no player in either team’s batting line-up, that will cause sleepless nights. Simmons did point to De Kock and skipper Dean Elgar as the two biggest threats in the Proteas line-up for his bowlers, although no doubt in the next couple of days Aiden Markram’s recent form will be a point of interest for the home side’s bowlers.
The bowling for both teams does look strong. “When you have Anrich Nortje running in and getting it through at 150kph and KG (Rabada) at 145 to 150 and they make it seam around, it plays perfectly into our hands,” said Ngidi.
The West Indies with Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph and young Jayden Seales have the ability to fight fire with fire. Roach has recently had a reasonably good few weeks with Surrey in the County Championship taking 22 wickets at an average of just 20.54. Shannon Gabriel was left out of the final 13-man squad named on Tuesday after picking up a hamstring injury in the intra-squad match.
Meanwhile Ngidi, hopes his new fitness regime will help him to overcome the lingering injury issues which have inhibited his international career thus far. The 25 year old has struggled to keep himself on the field with his heavy physique putting stress on his back and knees. “The fitness work I’ve been doing has helped to keep me on the park for a longer time. It’s been a goal of mine.”
Ngidi has played just eight Tests since making his debut three years ago, and in order for South Africa to be more successful, and provide more support for Rabada and Nortje, he needs to be on the field more. He said he’d been working with Charl Langeveldt on some “new skills,” which he hopes to employ during the series.
Besides the pitch, the atmospheric conditions are a challenge the South Africans need to adjust to as well. It’s hot and windy in the east Caribbean island but the weather does change quickly, with rain, which has been forecast for the opening day, a constant threat.
West Indies – Kraigg Brathwaite (capt), Jermaine Blackwood, Nkrumah Bonner, Roston Chase, Rahkeem Cornwall, Joshua Da Silva, Jason Holder, Shai Hope, Alzarri Joseph, Kyle Mayers, Kieran Powell, Kemar Roach, Jayden Seales
South Africa – 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.