It is a new era in South African Test cricket, under another new captain, and a new set of challenges for the South African team with their first tour of the West Indies in 11 years.
Dean Elgar has been saying all the right words ahead of the first Test against West Indies on Thursday, about wanting to get back to the South African way of scoring hundreds and taking five wicket hauls, talking about upskilling and being ready.
Whilst this is all great to read and is certainly enough to motivate and get pumped up, we all know what has transpired in the past. They say one thing and do another. We’ve all heard these positive words before, about needing to do better, but it’s how they translate that onto the field that matters.
The very fact that South Africa have crossed the 300-run mark only twice in their last 15 Test innings, and only three centuries scored in their last 8 Tests speaks volumes of how poor they have batted as a unit. An inability to stay at the crease, to bat time, to dig in and do a Dom Sibley or Devon Conway – that is what South Africa need to remember how to do. Do away with the T20 shots, do away with the flashes and loose drives, bat to stay at the crease, to build partnerships. It is about time that the top order do what they are there to do and build a solid foundation for the rest of the batting lineup to capitalize on.
To that end, Keegan Petersen, who has been patiently waiting for his chance in the Test team is likely to finally make his Test debut in the opening Test. A player with a wealth of domestic experience under his belt, a strong player of spin and a consistent performer for the Dolphins, with a first-class average of 41 to his name.
A selection question for the Proteas (but really nobody else) is that of Kyle Verreynne. He is a proven performer in 4-day cricket for the Six Gun Grill Cape Cobras, with a first-class average of 56, and he has also excelled in the little international cricket he has had. The only way he’ll learn about real life match situations and how to deal with them is by being in them. With the next cycle of the World Test Championship cycle soon to begin, with the T20 World Cup just 4 months away, with a 50-over World Cup in just over 2 years time, now is the time to get Verreyenne in and let him learn. He will make mistakes, he will have failures, but he will learn how to deal with them and that will make him a better cricketer, because he is as talented as they come.
South Africa will be up against a strong West Indies side, who have gone unbeaten in two of their last 3 home Test series’ against England, India and Sri Lanka, and who famously beat Bangladesh in their home turf earlier this year. They have also been developing a new group of young and exciting cricketers over the past few seasons; Jermaine Blackwood, Nkrumah Bonner and Kyle Mayers are three exciting and talented cricketers, along with their tried and trusted opening batsman, and now captain Kraigg Brathwaite and experienced bowlers Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach and the incredibly impressive Alzarri Joseph. A big threat to the Proteas batting unit, with their well-known struggles against spin is Rahkeem Cornwall, how they face him will be a big challenge. Shai Hope is back in the Windies team after being dropped due to a string of poor performances, but Hope is an extremely talented cricketer with so much potential to be great, and he scored the only century in the intra-squad fixture prior to this series. He will be looking to make a statement in this two-Test series and prove the selectors right for giving him another chance.
The Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium is not a happy hunting ground for the Windies, having won only once in their 7 Tests at this venue but despite this, they will be consisted favourites as the home side, and against a side that is young, relatively inexperienced, especially in these conditions, and having gone through some turbulence both on and off the field.
The Test starts at 4pm, SA time, on Thursday 10th June
My proposed playing XI
Dean Elgar (c), Aiden Markram, Rassie vd Dussen, Keegan Petersen, Temba Bavuma, Kyle Verreynne, Quinton de Kock (wk), Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje & Lungi Ngidi