Two weeks prior to the start of the West Indies series, South Africa made a handful of changes, and some surprising ones too. Temba Bavuma will take over the reins as the Proteas Test captain, dethroning Dean Elgar. Sarel Erwee, Rassie van der Dussen and Kyle Verreynne were dropped from the Test side, and interestingly, they have dropped Lungisani Ngidi as well.
And to add more, the swarm of changes was not only amongst the players. Mark Boucher, their head coach, resigned from the post after the 2022 edition of the T20 World Cup. Malibongwe Maketa took over the job as an interim head coach. However, Shukri Conard took over as the head coach in the longest format of the game and Rob Walter in ODIs and T20Is.
Up until August 2022, South Africa were the leading contenders to be in the finals of the World Test Championship cycle 2021-23. In their first eight matches, they had lost only two and had 75 points percentage. However, in their last five games, they lost four and drew one. With 48.7 percent points, South Africa are out of contention for the WTC final, even if they win both the matches.
For the visitors as well, it is a completely new challenge. The last time West Indies played a Test series in South Africa was in 2014/15, a long gap of eight years. Unlike the Proteas, West Indies are coming into this series with some strong performances since 2022.
Both teams have played four series since the start of 2022. South Africa have lost two and drawn one, and the West Indies have won three and lost one. In terms of confidence, West Indies have the upper hand.
Things to watch out for
Dismal record of South Africa’s batters
The bowling has never looked worrisome for South Africa, but their batters haven’t been able to complement them. In fact, they have been extremely poor. We can even say they are letting down the hard work done by their bowlers.
In Tests since 2022, South Africa’s top five batters have scored runs at an average of 28.03. In this period, only Bangladesh’s top five batters have scored at an average lower than them. Only one batter has hit a century in the aforementioned time, needless to say, it is the least.
Let alone the top five, only two of South Africa’s top-order batters (1-7) have hit centuries in this time frame. Among teams who have played three or more matches, they are the only team to have hit less than five 100s.
Batting revival from West Indies
The biggest problem in the West Indies outfit was their batting. In Tests from 2015 till 2021, in none of the years, their top seven batters had an aggregate average of above 30. In this time frame, their best year was 2016, where they averaged 29.2. Overall, from 2015 to 2021, their top seven batters averaged 26.5.
However, since 2022, their batting has seen a massive improvement. In this period, their top seven has averaged 35.5. This includes a series against England at home and a series in Australia.
South Africa’s impeccable record in Centurion
Every team has their own fortress, a venue where they are almost unbeatable, like how South Africa are at SuperSport Park, Centurion. They lost their previous match against India at this venue. Despite that, they have a commanding record.
In 27 matches at this venue, they have lost only three and have won 21. They have a win percentage of 77.7 percent, the best for a team at a venue where they have played 10+ matches. Pakistan also have lost only three matches in Karachi, but they have been involved in 21 draws. Hence, only in terms of win percentage, South Africa’s record in Centurion is the best.
West Indies have played three matches here and have lost each of the three. In fact, out of the 15 matches they have played in South Africa, they have won one, lost 12 and drew two. A stern test for the Men in Maroon.
Pitch and Conditions
In the last match against India, the SuperSport park served a green top. India in their first innings, evaded the early threat and went on to score 327 in the first innings. It has been the case in Centurion since 2018.
From the second session, it gets better to bat on day one as well as day two. In Tests since 2018, teams batting first have scored 305 runs on average and 306 in the second innings. In the aforementioned time, SuperSport is the only venue where the average score is above 300 in the second innings.
In the first session of days one and two, batting teams have scored 79.8 and 77.5 runs on an average. However, in the second session, the average score shoots up to 93.6 and 93.8.
In the last five Tests, that is, since 2018, pacers have bagged 91.5 percent of the wickets, and they have bowled 81.3 percent of the overs. In a venue where pacers have bowled in 10+ innings in this time frame, only in Cape Town (93.5%), Christchurch (93.4%) and at Lords (92.9%), pacers have a higher percentage of wickets than Centurion.
- Aiden Markram is likely to open the batting in the first Test. A stiff challenge will arise when he faces Kemar Roach. In Tests since 2021, Markram has averaged 19.3 with seven dismissals against pacers when bowled on a good length. In the same time frame, Roach has bagged 21 wickets from this length against the right-handers. He has a wicket every 14.2 runs and 42 balls. Whereas, when bowled on any other lengths, his average is higher than 25.
-South Africa batters, do not look down on Kyle Mayers. He might not have the pace, but he’s going to be one bowler to watch out for, especially in conditions like SuperSport. In Tests since 2021, Mayers has bagged 27 wickets at an average of 19.3. Out of those 27 wickets, 16 have come when he has bowled on good length. He has a wicket every 10.5 runs and 40.8 balls.
Keegan Petersen, one of their best batters in this WTC cycle, missed the Australian tour owing to a hamstring injury. With his return, he, alongside Markram, will occupy two of the top three spots. Tony de Zorzi might make his Test debut, as one of Rickelton or Klaasen will feature as the wicket-keeper.
Probable XI: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Keegan Petersen, Tony de Zorzi, Temba Bavuma (c), Ryan Rickelton/Heinrich Klaasen (wk), Wiaan Mulder, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada
West Indies haven’t made too many changes from their squad that toured Zimbabwe earlier in February 2023. Jomel Warrican and Nkrumah Bonner have gone out for Akeem Jordan and Alick Athanaze. The only change expected is Roach in place of Motie
Probable XI: Kraigg Brathwaite (c), Tagenarine Chanderpaul, Raymon Reifer, Jermaine Blackwood, Kyle Mayers, Roston Chase, Joshua da Silva (wk), Jason Holder, Alzarri Joseph, Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel