Without a series win on home soil against South Africa, West Indies begin their two-Test rubber against the Proteas with a better than average chance of improving that record.
The two teams meet in the first Test today at the Darren Sammy Cricket Ground in St Lucia with the home side unbeaten in their last four matches and ranked sixth in the world. That ICC ranking is the best for the Caribbean side since 2013 and reflects a recent up-turn in form.
By contrast South Africa have slipped to seventh, their lowest-ever ranking following two defeats in Pakistan. They come into the series with their team in transition and with fitness doubts surrounding vice-captain and senior batsman Temba Bavuma.
He was to undergo a fitness test yesterday on a hip problem to determine his availability. And should he not make the final XI, his place could be taken by newcomer, Keegan Peterson.
Another rookie Kyle Verreynne who averages 56.32 in first-class cricket is also set for a Test debut today. While Verreyne and Peterson are new to international cricket, none of their teammates, including skipper Dean Elgar have played Tests in the Caribbean before.
The time appears ripe for Brathwaite’s side to create some positive history. But yesterday, the WI skipper shied away from making predictions.
“We know that South Africa will be challenging...but I think once we do the small things right, that’s what I like to focus on and results will take care of themselves,” Brathwaite said in a Zoom media call.
The Windies could themselves hand a first cap to teenage pacer Jayden Seales, especially if they stick to the use of four specialist bowlers plus an all-rounder as they did in the home series against Sri Lanka.
Again he kept his cards close to his chest, but asked if he favoured sticking with five specialist batsmen, Brathwaite said: “I don’t think pretty much anything would change...but whatever combination we come up with I am pretty confident in it for sure.” Should the Windies go with five specialist batters, one of Kieran Powell or Nkrumah Bonner could miss out.
Former skipper Jason Holder suggested last week that the series could be decided by the batsmen. But both teams will be relying heavily on their fast bowlers to deliver on a surface Brathwaite described yesterday as “a very good cricket pitch.”
Opportunity is there for both teams to seize, and Elgar hopes his side can start writing a new chapter in their history beginning today.
“We are very aware of what’s happened in the past and we are trying to rectify that bearing in mind that we’ve lost quite a few experienced batters in the past. It’s now time for guys to put their hands up. The opportunities are there for guys now,” he said.
Brathwaite, though is feeling the “same energy” from his men as he did in the series against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. “I can see the guys, in their eyes they are ready to go,” he said.
Starting today, they get to prove it. First ball is 10 a.m.
WI (from Kraigg Brathwaite (Captain), Jermaine Blackwood (vice-captain), Nkrumah Bonner, Roston Chase, Rahkeem Cornwall, Joshua Da Silva, Jason Holder, Shai Hope, Alzarri Joseph, Kyle Mayers, Kieran Powell, Kemar Roach, Jayden Seales.
S/Africa (from Dean Elgar (Captain), Temba Bavuma (vice-captain), Quinton De Kock, Sarel Erwee, Beuran Hendricks, George Linde, Keshav Maharaj, Lungi Ngidi, Aiden Markram, Wiaan Mulder, Anrich Nortje, Keegan Peterson, Kagiso Rabada, Rassie Van Der Dussen, Kyle Verreynne, Tabraiz Shamsi, Lizaad Williams, Prenelan Subrayen, Marco Jansen.