A Fascinating South Africa – West Indies Test Series Beckons!

Can the West Indies batting prevail over South Africa’s vaunted pace attack? Will the West Indies bowling be sufficiently potent to capture twenty South African wickets in either of the two Tests?
Those are among the many questions to be asked and answered during the forthcoming South Africa- West Indies two Tests Series. The first match of which gets underway on Tuesday, February 28.

South Africa’s current bowling attack will, most definitely, be significantly stronger than anything the West Indies would have faced during the recently concluded victorious 1-0 Series win against their Zimbabwe hosts. As such, the two Tests South Africa Series will likely provide a very stern test for the West Indies batsmen. The series should also provide some further indication as to what long-lasting effect if any the West Indies’ recently appointed Performance Mentor, the former captain and world-renowned maestro, Brian Charles Lara, is having on his charges.

Cricket West Indies’ (CWI) announcement of Lara’s appointment would have come as much-welcomed news to the majority of Caribbean cricket fans and followers. Frustrated and agitated as they have been for decades by the West Indies team’s demonstrated batting shortcomings.

Much to the delight of many fans, the appointment already appears to be having somewhat of a positive effect. In their three innings batted during the Zimbabwe tour, the West Indies recorded scores of 447/6 dec and 203/5 dec in the first Test, followed by 292 in the second.

More importantly, among the West Indies’ individual batting performances there was an undefeated double century (207*) by young Tagenarine Chanderpaul playing in only his third Test, and a massive 182 from skipper Kraigg Brathwaite. There were also half-centuries from Roston Chase (70), Ramon Reifer (58, 53) and Jermaine Blackwood.
That was the good news, the worrying flip side being that Chanderpaul and Brathwaite were the only two batsmen to score over 200 runs in the Series. Chanderpaul’s undefeated double-century catapulted his series average to an impressive 129.00. Captain Brathwaite’s was only marginally less so at 71.33. Wicket-keeper Joshua DaSilva with 56.00 was, however, the only other West Indies batsman to end the Series with an over 40 average, the established standard benchmark for batting success at the Test level.

Ramon Reifer 37.66, Kyle Mayers 33.50, Roston Chase 30.33 and Jermaine Blackwood 28.00! Those were the respective Zimbabwe Series averages for the West Indies middle-order batsmen. Below-par statistics that would have left South Africa’s world-class fast bowling trio of Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada licking their lips in anticipation of the forthcoming opportunities to bowl at them. Even more so in likely seamer-friendly home conditions with which they, as South Africa’s primary strike bowlers, will be entirely familiar.
The rather dismal Zimbabwe Series averages from the West Indies batsmen, Brathwaite, Chanderpaul and DaSilva excluded, also suggest that Performance Mentor Brian Lara now still has a lot of work to do. The forthcoming South Africa Series could, therefore, provide conclusive indications as to which of the current crop of West Indies middle-order batsmen would be worth persisting with.

Having been brought into the team with a paltry First-Class average of 27.69 from 145 innings batted in 89 matches played, Ramon Reifer has of late also, inexplicably to many, been thrust into the pivotal role of the West Indies number three. A position previously held in not yet forgotten halcyon days by the likes of George Headley, Everton Weekes, Rohan Kanhai, Lawrence Rowe, Alvin Kallicharran, Viv Richards, Richie Richardson, and Brian Lara himself. None of whom Reifer, even in his wildest dreams and at his very best, could ever come remotely close to by any measure of comparison.

Batting at three, Reifer failed miserably in the Zimbabwe first Test, scoring just two in the West Indies first innings, but rebounded by scoring 58 in the second innings. He then followed that up with another half-ton, 53, in the West Indies’ first innings of the second Test.
Reifer will be expected to continue in the number three role in both Tests of the forthcoming South Africa series. Unless of course his failures in the first are sufficiently suggestive of his unsuitability, not only for that specific role but as a Test match cricketer overall.

In Reifer’s favour will be the actuality that apart from the very young, still untested, Alick Athanaze who was just recently drafted to the squad for the South Africa tour and is yet to make his Test debut, or arguably Devon Thomas the backup wicket-keeper, there is no one else in the team’s makeup suitable to fill the number three role. How Reifer fares against South Africa’s potent pace attack will, therefore, be interesting to see.

So too will the respective performances of Messrs. Blackwood, Myers and Chase, all of whom, based on their overall runs production within recent times, should consider themselves incredibly lucky to still be members of the West Indies team. Were it not for the apparent hesitancy of the West Indies Selectors to experiment by allowing others the opportunity to demonstrate their respective merits, they would all have by now been discarded. Rightfully so!

In his last twenty Test match batting cease appearances, played from August 2021 to this February month of 2023, Jermaine Blackwood has recorded scores of 22, 57, 5, 0, 3, 24, 36, 40, 26*, 63, 18, 27, 102, 2, 11, 36, 44, 9, 20 and 25! Only one century and two half-centuries, punctuated by 13 sub-30 scores including five in single figures. Hardly the returns of a reliable number four and totally unfitting of the team’s vice-captain.
Even luckier than Blackwood to still be around and earning dues as a West Indies Test batsman is Kyle Mayers. Now aged 30, Mayers has been living off the legacy of his debut double-century, which was scored against lowly Bangladesh back in February 2021. His only other century since then was the 146 he scored against his much-favoured Bangladesh in St Lucia last June.

Outside of those two laudable performances, Mayers’ more recent scores have been 30, 17*, 20, 10, 1, 7, 28, 0, 36*, 2, 45, 32, 0, 0, 0, 34, 12, 12, 1 and 55. Just one half-century amongst 13 sub-30 scores, the latter being inclusive of as many as four not-to-bother Mr. Scorer ducks!

Mayers’ continued retention in the squad has also been supposedly based on his valuable wicket-taking contribution as a medium-pace bowler. A suggestion which, however, has not been sufficiently supported by the statistics!
27 wickets from 25 innings bowled in his 16 Tests played to date, that’s been Mayers’ actual wicket-taking production to date. Just over one wicket per innings and hardly sufficient justification for his continued selection as a batting all-rounder!

Yet another seasoned campaigner, Roston Chase, was snuck back into the West Indies squad under the almost comical suggestion that he could fulfill the role of the team’s front-line spinner against Australia’s formidable batting lineup. An experiment which, of course, predictably proved itself to be a most miserable failure. Chase took 3/313 at an average of 104.33 in the two Tests he played against Australia last December!
To his credit, however, Chase has instead used the opportunity to restore his batting credentials by registering half-centuries in two of his last six Test innings. Chase’s overall batting returns from his last 20 innings, however, indicate that he too should consider himself very lucky to now still be representing the West Indies in Tests.

70, 14, 7, 13, 34, 53, 13, 0, 10, 1, 2, 0, 10, 22, 21, 4, 62, 8, 0, 0, those have been Chase’s scores in his last 20 Test Innings. No centuries, and just three half-centuries punctuated by 16 sub-30 scores, as well as four ducks.
With such an unreliable middle order the West Indies will be hoping for its newfound opening pair of skipper Kraigg Brathwaite and Tagenarine Chanderpaul to maintain their consistency in giving the innings very solid starts. They will also be hoping for the lower order, comprised of Jason Holder, Josh DaSilva, Alzarri Joseph and now Gudakesh Motie, to chip in with valuable runs.

South Africa’s bowling appears on paper to be the stronger of its two suits. The West Indies bowling attack comprised as it should be of Joseph and Shannon Gabriel’s matching searing pace, Motie’s beguiling left-arm spin, as well as Holder’s rediscovered testing lines and lengths, should be sufficient to prevail over South Africa’s vulnerable batting. Whether it can do so to the necessary extent of capturing the 2o wickets required to win either of the two Tests, however, remains to be seen.
A fascinating Series it should prove to be indeed!

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