Colin E. H. Croft
West Indies starts its long, important tour of South Africa proper Wednesday when Test No. 1 bowls off at
Super-sports Park, Centurion, one of the more airy and refreshing cricket grounds anywhere. For WI to succeed on this tour, a tough assignment, total team fitness throughout is the key!
This tour is of tremendous significance, as it follows immediately on what happened in India. More to the point, the next assignment for WI will be ICC Cricket World Cup in February/March next year.
The three vastly important Tests should tell us how WI, collectively, have survived after India, having not played Tests since beating Bangladesh last September. But, it would be the latter part of this SA tour, five ODI’s, which would probably have more significance for CWC 2015.
Lanky orthodox leg-spinner Suleiman Benn must hold his form and fitness, for, as the lone front-line spinner in the party, he could expect extended bowling spells.
WI’s attack is fast-bower based, with left-hander Sheldon Cottrell, Shannon Gabriel, Jason Holder, Kemar Roach and Jerome Taylor vying for positions.
Roach and Taylor are sureties, if fully fit, so it may come done to the immediate form of the others to form the 1st Test attack.
Cottrell has already shown that he has form, with a five-wicket haul in the lone warm-up game, so Gabriel and Holder could be competing for that lone remaining bowling place, if five bowlers are used.
Many have already written off WI’s chances of doing positively, even winning a Test, or, indeed, the series. Their build-up has been minimal, forfeiting chances of proper preparation for this tour by historically curtailing their last to India. We are told that all is now well!
While the proof is in the eating, we should not be so quick to think that it would be all so very simple for SA, and that WI will, ironically, be “whitewashed” by the rainbow nation’s always exciting cricketers.
WI could surprise, for they have many objectives to meet, not least that they are still a cohesive unit, that they are now focused solely on cricket, and that they, as quickly as possible, want to remove that stain and embarrassment of India’s tour that ended in such a debacle.
Some WI supporters are still catching their breaths and scratching their heads from the India crash!
One of the charms of Super-sports Park is that patrons in western areas of the ground are allowed to do their own cooking “tail-gate style”– standard South African “brie” or barbeque – where all meats are marinated, cooked; aromas universal; and immediately consumed, normally with several types of liquid!
But food should be the last thing on WI’s minds. If they do not concentrate, organize especially their batting, then they will be devoured by a SA team which, so differently to WI, have had a recent series of games in Australia to bring them up to levels of fitness and production they would hope for.
OK, SA’s tour of Australia only contained T-20’s and ODI’s, SA losing 2-1 and 4-1 respectively, but at least, SA’s cricketers had stern opposition very recently in their last series before meeting WI.
Contrarily, WI’s players have only had WICB’s Regional 4-day competition as preparation, and scores in those games have been so ordinary that the team’s batting overall must be of grave concern.
Especially with Chris Gayle now out, due to injury, massive responsibilities are on other veterans Shiv Chanderpaul, Marlon Samuels, surprisingly recalled Devon Smith and captain Denesh Ramdin, to not only produce, but to remain the rocks to build on for any success.
Fortunately, even if the opposition, SA Invitation XI, was not half as good as SA’s Test team will be, Smith celebrated his recall with an immediate century – 174 retired out – which would boost his confidence no end. Replacing Gayle will not be easy for him, but at least, his should be flying sky high!
Chanderpaul did not dominate games played for Guyana this year. Indeed, it was Narsingh Deonarine who was going guns, yet, somewhat surprisingly, it was Sewnarine Chattergoon who was called up. Leon Johnson, yet another Guyanese left-hander, could find himself under real pressure for his place.
Chattergoon, who replaced unavailable Darren Bravo, has played only three Tests: 122 runs, five innings, average 30. He impressed recently on WI’s “A” team tour to Sri Lanka.
Marlon Samuels has started SA’s tour where he left off from that tour to India, with a double century – 203 retired out, to renew his appetite for runs, as, farcically, he was not allowed to play for Jamaica this year in WICB’s Regional 4-day competition. Much will depend on Samuels’ efforts in SA!
Ramdin’s leadership, wicket-keeping skills and absolutely crucial runs must be spot on, if WI is to challenge for supremacy, while opener Kraigg Braithwaite and still improving Jermaine Blackwood would have to settle quickly, realizing that SA’s bowling attack is varied and highly competent.
This tour, after India’s situation, will be hard for WI, but fortune favours the brave and determined. WI will need these two factors, and full fitness, to succeed in SA. Enjoy!
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