Wednesday, February 28, 2024

PREVIEW: Grudge matches


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by EZRA STUARTAFTER BEING beaten and battered in the preceding Twenty20 and One-Day International series by South Africa, can the beleaguered West Indies bounce back in the three-Test Digicel cricket series bowling off tomorrow?With the first Test switched from the original venue of Sabina Park, Jamaica, to Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad and Tobago, Caribbean cricket fans will also be hoping for a change in the fortunes for Chris Gayle’s outfit.The other two remaining Tests are scheduled for Warner Park, St Kitts, June 18-22 and Kensington Oval, Barbados, June 26-30.This series will be a golden opportunity for the Windies to avenge the many defeats inflicted by the Proteas who have dominated every series since they lost the one-off Test at Kensington Oval in 1992, to mark their Test cricket rebirth.After that, they blanked the Caribbean side 5-0 in the 1999-2000 series on home soil and triumphed 2-1 in the Caribbean in 2001. The South Africans followed up with a 3-0 whitewash in another Test rubber  on home soil, two years later.They returned to the region in 2005 for a 2-0 triumph and won the last series between the teams in South Africa 2-1. In 22 Tests between the teams, South Africa have won 14,  lost three and drawn five.Dale Steyn, whose 196 wickets, inclusive of 13 five-wicket hauls,  have been taken in only 38 Tests at an average of 23.51 and a strike rate of a wicket every 39 balls, will spearhead South Africa’s bowling.The tall and pacy Morne Morkel, with 78 wickets in 23 Tests at 32.89, will be his newball partner but apart from Charl Langeveldt, there is an inexperienced pace support cast  of Ryan McLaren and Lonwabo Tsotsobe, as exciting left-armer Wayne Parnell remains a doubtful starter.This is expected to be the last tour  of the Caribbean for inspirational  all-rounder Jacques Kallis, who continues to be South Africa’s key batsman with 10 760 runs at an average of 54.61.Certainly, the world’s best  present-day cricketer, Kallis, who also has 260 wickets [ave: 31.53] and is an outstanding slip fielder with 151 catches, has reeled off 34 centuries but is still to make a double century. His highest Test score is 189 not out.Newcomer Alviro Peterson, who scored a century on debut against India, is likely to open the innings with captain Graeme Smith, who has 6 787 runs in 82 Tests at an average of 50.64 with 20 centuries.This means that left-hander Ashwell Prince [11 centuries and a Test average of 42.60 after 54 matches], may drop back into the middle order, vying  with Jean Paul Duminy for No. 6 batting spot.Hashim Amla has cemented his place at the pivotal No. 3 slot with ten centuries in 43 Tests for an average of 47.26. He will be followed by Kallis and the versatile A.B. de Villiers [nine centuries, ave: 42.87 in 58 Tests] and the long-serving wicket-keeper/batsman Mark Boucher, whose 492 dismissals [470 catches, 22 stumpings] in 130 matches are the most victims by a wicketkeeper in Test cricket’s history. Boucher also has five Test centuries and averages 31.17 with the bat. Frontline spin bowlerTall left-arm spinner Paul Harris  [87 wickets in 29 Tests at an average  of 35.12] has maintained his place as the team’s frontline spin bowler, but it will be interesting to see whether South Africa will go into the first Test with  a second spinner on the usually  spin-friendly Queen’s Park pitch.The last time the West Indies played Test cricket, they gave an encouraging, if not outstanding performance in Australia, losing the series 2-0. It climaxed a year in which they managed a solitary Test victory against England but lost six and drew the other five Tests in 2009.Gayle’s men are also coming off a dismal run in the shorter versions of the game and the loss of their two best fast bowlers in Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor through injury, as well as the experienced middle-order batsman Ramnaresh Sarwan and young promising opener Adrian Barath,  will be severely felt.


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