South Africa gained a lot from the recent Test series despite the mediocre opposition.
The three-game series between South Africa and West Indies won’t be remembered, at least not for the quality of the contest. There were periods where the West Indies were competitive rather than dominant, and certain individuals made their mark. But the outcome, in spite of the hampering elements in the second and third Tests, was predictable.
What else could be expected when No 1 plays No 8? To make matters worse, the West Indies came into this series without Chris Gayle and Darren Bravo. They lost their best bowler, Kemar Roach, after the first Test at Centurion. They were always going to struggle to remain competitive in this series, and the final scoreline flattered them. If not for the weather, the scoreline may have been 3-0, and the margins of defeat may have been monstrous.
The Proteas would never admit it publicly, but results were never the priority in this series. A three-game series against poor opposition provided them with an opportunity to bolster their depth and explore some alternate combinations. Injuries may have forced Russell Domingo’s hand in some respects, but the South African coach should feel pleased with the answers he received to some nagging questions.
Since the retirement of Graeme Smith in early 2014, Dean Elgar has done a good job at the top of the order. Like Smith, Elgar has more determination than natural talent. His temperament was evident in the Test series against Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe last year, and most recently in the series against the West Indies. That knock of 121 in Port Elizabeth was a statement. He has done enough to cement his place at the top of the order.
The same cannot be said of Elgar’s opening partner, Alviro Petersen. The latter came into this series a man under pressure, and while he got several starts, he failed to make them count. There have been calls for Stiaan van Zyl, who scored a century on debut at Centurion, to be trialled at the top of the Proteas order. One thing is now for certain, Petersen has had enough chances, and needs to go.
A change should come to pass later in the year, when the Test season resumes and the likes of JP Duminy and Quinton de Kock return from their respective injuries. Those two players, as well as Van Zyl, deserve a place in the Proteas’ XI. Petersen may not be discarded completely, but the manner in which he has struggled in recent seasons suggests there is much work to be done if he is to be considered for a starting position ever again.
Following an erratic showing in Port Elizabeth, Imran Tahir is another who didn’t strengthen his claims for selection. He was handed the opportunity to be South Africa’s frontline spinner after Robin Peterson was injured in the buildup to the second Test. Tahir claimed three wickets, but as he admitted afterwards, the performance as a whole was anything but special.
South Africa doesn’t boast many leg-spin options, which is why the selectors so often revert to Tahir. What they do have, given the performances witnessed over the past 12 months, is a few good prospects on the off-spinner front.
Dane Piedt made an impression in his debut against Zimbabwe, as did Simon Harmer against the West Indies in Cape Town. It appears as if South Africa may yet evolve to the point where they consistently field a quality spinner in their attack, and become less predictable as a result.