England isn’t the only country staging Test cricket this week as the West Indies and South Africa embark on a two match series which begins in St Lucia on Thursday and could give us an indication of how these two sides will go for the next World Test Championship.
Clearly the immediate focus for these two sides will be white ball action and that gets looked after later in the tour but for now it is all about the red ball and both teams enter this match knowing that the winner will already be guaranteed a share of the series.
Very rarely have West Indies been this busy in Test match cricket. This is their fourth series since the beginning of December and while they have all been two match series like this one, they have a win, a defeat and a draw to their record going into this one. What it does mean is that they have been pretty active in red ball cricket, which not every side can admit to while the pandemic is going on. There can be no arguments that West Indies are underdone going into the series.
The highlight of those series was the 2-0 win in Bangladesh but they weren’t able to follow that up against a Sri Lanka side that had the look of one which was there for the taking. They drew that series 0-0 and need to find ways of being effective in all conditions. It might well be that conditions here help them with that but there is barely a series go by that West Indies don’t try out a new combination. You could argue that is the point of these series that carry no points but there is a lot to be said about continuity.
The South Africans will be embarking on their third Test series since Christmas here. They saw off Sri Lanka pretty comfortable in home conditions but were found wanting in Pakistan soon after so they have a bit of a point to prove here. Much like their opponents in this match, South Africa have decided to use this time to begin a period of transition as they look to settle on combinations which can take them up the rankings and make them a factor in the next World Test Championship.
The first of those switches has been to make Dean Elgar the permanent captain of the side and he’ll begin his leadership in alien conditions to South Africa, although perhaps not quite as far away from their own environment as they might have expected. Even with all the changes they have undergone, South Africa look to have an attack fit to cut it at this level so the big question is can an inexperienced batting line up deliver the goods as well? The answer is likely to dictate where the result of this match goes.
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West Indies have confirmed that Kieran Powell gets a recall to the side after two years in the wilderness. He replaces John Campbell while Jayden Seales is expected to make his debut after Shannon Gabriel picked up an injury. Jason Holder plays despite losing the captaincy.
Quinton de Kock also plays for South Africa even though he has given up the Test captaincy. South Africa are expected to blood Keegan Petersen in the middle order and he’ll be assigned the task of plugging the hole Faf du Plessis has left. Temba Bavuma faces a fitness test before his appearance can be confirmed.
I’ll take a couple of bets for this Test match. The first comes in the form of Anrich Nortje and his performance target. Although the quick bowler has 39 Test wickets to his name there is still a little bit for him to prove at this level but I think he will have conditions to suit here and I would expect him to go very well in both these matches, but especially this first one which is said to have a bit of juice in the pitch. His performance target is 100.5 so we need five wickets from him because I’m sure he will get a run somewhere along the line. Obviously if he can score 21 runs or take a catch and get 11 runs we’ll only need four wickets from him but over the course of the two innings I think Nortje’s pace will cause enough issues to get the five wickets, especially if he is brought on to demolish the tail. I like the over here.
I’ll also take a chance on Rakheem Cornwall to top score for West Indies in the first innings. South Africa have the seam bowlers to exploit any juice or bounce in the wicket and while there is a lot of power in the West Indies ranks, technique is something which isn’t in quite as much supply I think it is fair to say. Cornwall might well come in at nine in this innings but he batted there against Sri Lanka and made 61 and 73. The first of those was enough to top score so against a much stronger South Africa attack if he can make anything close to 50 he is likely to go close once again. This is his home ground in the CPL so he’ll know how to bat here and at 33/1, considering he top scored two full innings ago, he looks a big price to me.
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