South Africa’s Test series against the West Indies, which starts in Centurion on Tuesday, could hardly be more low-key, but it has the potential to launch a new era for the team.
New coach Shukri Conrad has already stamped his authority on the team, appointing Temba Bavuma as the new captain – the first black African to skipper the Test team – and clearing out several players who were found wanting in losing series in England and Australia.
The Test series has had minimal build-up in a South African season which has been dominated by T20 cricket.
There was the first SA20 franchise tournament, which was a crowd-pulling success, and the Women’s T20 World Cup in which South Africa reached the final, hugely lifting the profile of women’s cricket.
The two matches against the West Indies are the only two Tests scheduled for the South African summer after Cricket South Africa took a decision to prioritise the SA20.
The series is part of the World Test Championship but South Africa are no longer in contention for a place in the final after being heavily beaten in Australia, which in turn was followed by India climbing up the standings in their home series against the Australians.
Unlike the white ball games, the series is not expected to pack the grounds in Centurion and Johannesburg.
With the first Test starting on a Tuesday and the second on a Wednesday – and given the trend for matches to end in three or four days – there are no guarantees that there will be any significant action over the weekends.
Nor does the prospect of a series against the West Indies stir the blood as it did in the days of the teams led by Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards.
Since falling victim to the pace duo of Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose in 1992, in their first Test after 22 years of political isolation, South Africa have dominated against the players from the Caribbean.
The Proteas have won 20 and lost only two of 29 Tests against West Indies since the capitulation at the Kensington Oval in Barbados.
The current tour of South Africa is the first by the West Indies since 2014-15.
Kraigg Brathwaite’s tourists arrived after a series in Zimbabwe where the first Test was drawn and the West Indies won the second by an innings, with left-arm spinner Gudakesh Motie returning match figures of 13-99.
Motie (27) who was playing in his third Test match, is unlikely to find conditions helpful in either venue, even though South Africa’s batting has been fragile in recent series.
Conrad signalled an intention to play aggressive cricket by selecting stroke-playing batsmen like Aiden Markram, Ryan Rickelton and new cap Tony de Zorzi, as well as giving the wicketkeeping gloves to the hard-hitting Heinrich Klaasen.
The West Indies opening pair of Brathwaite and Tagenerine Chanderpaul will have an important role to play against what is expected to be a pace battery, likely to include 22-year-old tearaway Gerald Coetzee.
South Africa squad: Temba Bavuma (c), Gerald Coetzee, Tony de Zorzi, Dean Elgar, Simon Harmer, Marco Jansen, Heinrich Klaasen (wkt), Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Wiaan Mulder, Senuran Muthusamy, Anrich Nortje, Keegan Petersen, Kagiso Rabada, Ryan Rickelton.
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West Indies squad: Kraigg Brathwaite (c), Alick Athanaze, Jermaine Blackwood, Tagenarine Chanderpaul, Roston Chase, Joshua da Silva (wkt), Shannon Gabriel, Jason Holder, Alzarri Joseph, Akeem Jordan, Kyle Mayers, Gudakesh Motie, Raymon Reifer, Kemar Roach, Devon Thomas.
28 February – 4 March: 1st Test, Centurion
8-12 March: 2nd Test, Johannesburg
16 March: 1st ODI, East London
18 March: 2nd ODI, East London
21 March: 3rd ODI, Potchefstroom
25 March: 1st T20I, Centurion
26 March: 2nd T20I, Centurion
28 March: 3rd T20I, Johannesburg
© Agence France-Presse