New-look South Africa gear up for old Test grind

Big picture: Winds of change in SA cricket

Cricket and South Africa seem to have a love-hate relationship of late. The wheels for that were set in motion with the SA20 auction in September last year. Since then, the men crashed out in the group stages of the T20 World Cup and later wrote themselves into unwanted record books in Australia.

This was followed by the success of their premium product SA20, before they also hosted the inaugural Under-19 Women’s T20 World Cup. Then came the women’s senior T20 World Cup, where South Africa, the hosts, were halted in the final, two days before the start of the men’s Test series between South Africa and West Indies.

A Test match against West Indies might not invite thousands of spectators – like those who hogged the stands for the SA20. After all, South Africa are not even in the race for the WTC final anymore.

But that could yet prove to be just the ideal, pressure-free start for new Test captain Temba Bavuma. Over these months, it has been as much a circus for him personally as it has been for his side: after being initially snubbed at the SA20 auction, it was under Bavuma’s captaincy that South Africa exited early from the T20 World Cup, before a strike rate of 114.64 while scoring 180 runs – including a century – in three ODIs against England saw him finally attract a deal at the SA20.

And apart from being named new Test captain, he has a revamped squad and coaching set-up to contend with; South Africa’s count of support staff for this Test series stands at 12, more than the number of players who will feature in the team.

West Indies don’t have as much drama to deal with, as they have landed in South Africa on the back of a 1-0 series win in Zimbabwe. The opposition, pitch and conditions will not be similar, as the slow, turning track of Bulawayo will be replaced by the spicier combination of pace and bounce in Centurion to begin with.

Before Bulawayo, West Indies’ last away win in a Test had come two years ago. West Indies have an interim coach, too, with the uncapped pair of batter Alick Athanaze and seamer Akeem Jordan also in the squad. That said, only five of their squad of 15 on this tour have played a Test in South Africa before.

In fact, the last time West Indies played a bilateral series in South Africa was in 2014-15, and the last time they won a Test in the country was further back in December 2007.

South Africans’ party in Cape Town might not have ended the way they would have liked, and even before the public hardly gets any time to put their women’s team’s World Cup final loss behind, the men bring the hard grind and labour of Test cricket, which the country had last seen almost a year back.

Form guide

(Last five matches; most recent first)

South Africa DLLLL
West Indies WDLLW

In the spotlight: Dean Elgar and Kemar Roach

Dean Elgar averages a lowly 15.25 in his last 12 Test innings. All of those came while he was captain, a phase he didn’t particularly seem to enjoy with the bat: he averaged only 28.40 since being named permanent Test captain in March 2021, without a single century. And while it might be too soon to let him go, he will be wary that he is just six months away from turning 36, as he will be by the selection of Tony de Zorzi and the return of Aiden Markram into the Test fold.

Kemar Roach has only played a single Test in South Africa in a 14-year international career. While West Indies were crushed by an innings and 220 runs then, an injured ankle had ruled him out of the match – and the rest of the Test series – after bowling barely 16 overs on the first day. But since 2015, Roach has grabbed 141 Test wickets at 28.36. He has the pace and experience to deliver for West Indies on a challenging tour.

Team news: Gerald Coetzee might make his debut

South Africa have overhauled their set-up from their last Test, which came against Australia in January. And with the hosts likely to field an all-pace attack in Centurion, even Keshav Maharaj might not find a place. Markram is set to partner Elgar at the top, while right-arm quick Gerald Coetzee might make his debut.

South Africa (probable): 1 Dean Elgar, 2 Aiden Markram, 3 Keegan Petersen, 4 Temba Bavuma (capt), 5 Heinrich Klaasen (wk), 6 Ryan Rickelton, 7 Wiaan Mulder, 8 Marco Jansen, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Anrich Nortje, 11 Gerald Coetzee

Despite Gudakesh Motie’s 13-wicket haul in the victory over Zimbabwe, and spin-bowling allrounder Roston Chase scoring 70 followed by 35 in the warm-up on this tour, West Indies might not find space to accommodate both spinners. Roach could slot in as the fourth seamer behind Jason Holder, Alzarri Joseph and Shannon Gabriel.

West Indies (probable): 1 Kraigg Brathwaite (capt), 2 Tagenarine Chanderpaul, 3 Kyle Mayers, 4 Raymon Reifer, 5 Jermaine Blackwood, 6 Roston Chase/Gudakesh Motie, 7 Jason Holder, 8 Joshua Da Silva (wk), 9 Alzarri Joseph, 10 Kemar Roach, 11 Shannon Gabriel

Pitch and conditions

The pitch at SuperSport has traditionally been seamer-friendly, with South Africa often getting the better of visiting sides through rapid pace and bounce. Four of the last five Tests there has seen the captain winning the toss bat first. As for the weather, it has been raining a lot in Centurion of late, but it’s mostly expected to be sunny on Tuesday, the first day of the Test.

Stats that matter

  • Among the current West Indies squad, Kraigg Brathwaite, Gabriel, Blackwood and Holder were part of the side that played their last Test in South Africa. The hosts, on the other hand, had Bavuma and Simon Harmer in their XI.
  • South Africa have won 24 of the 27 Tests they have played at SuperSport Park in Centurion. The venue had last hosted a drawn Test way back in December 2009.
  • Bavuma will be South Africa’s fourth Test captain since 2020: Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock and Elgar have preceded him during the period.
  • Quotes

    “No one died. We went to Australia, we got a good beating. There were lessons that guys took individually from it. It was hard to have a debrief because the management who were there, some of the guys are not here now”
    South Africa’s new Test captain Temba Bavuma isn’t living in the past

    Himanshu Agrawal is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo


    Téléphones et tablettes.