Tough South Africans will test improving West IndiesFriday, June 04, 2021
Gone are the days — perhaps never to return — when an international cricket tour of the Caribbean lasted months, embracing a leisurely trip along the chain of English-speaking Caribbean islands and also Guyana on the South American mainland.
With time, cricket tours, not just to the Caribbean region but everywhere, have become shorter because of crowded schedules in an environment driven by television.
The onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic since early 2020, which has necessitated strict safety measures including biosecure squad bubbles, has further truncated tour itineraries to a degree unimagined previously. As a consequence, Sri Lanka's trip to the Caribbean earlier this year was contained to just Antigua, because of the health control requirements. Readers may recall that spectators were not allowed into the venue to view the games in Antigua, again because of the COVID-19 threat.
Now, Caribbean cricket lovers are looking forward to the South Africans, who are just about ending a period of quarantine after arriving in St Lucia earlier this week. Again, the visitors will face the West Indies without spectators.
This Test and T20 series between West Indies and South Africa was originally scheduled for last year, but was scrapped — along with the entire 2020 schedule in the Caribbean — after the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
Unlike the Sri Lanka tour, a second island is on the schedule for the South Africans, with Grenada to accommodate the teams in late June to very early July for five T20 Internationals — part of preparation for the T20 World Cup later this year. This will come after two Test matches are played in St Lucia between June 10 and 22.
Unusually for the visitors, they find themselves seventh in the International Cricket Council's Test match rankings behind the Kraigg Braithwaite-led West Indies, who have progressed to sixth from eighth in recent months.
Progress for the West Indies has come largely as a result of a 2-0 Test series win by what was perceived to be a below-strength team, away to Bangladesh early this year, and a 0-0 series draw against previously higher-ranked Sri Lanka.
The South Africans — rocked by serious administrative problems in recent months — have had a bad run on the field of play lately, contributing to their fall in the rankings.
In the Test matches in St Lucia, the visitors will have a new leader, the admirable opening batsman Mr Dean Elgar. He has taken over the reins from wicketkeeper/batsman Mr Quinton de Kock.
Much has been made of the absence from the trip of the former highly successful South African Captain Mr Faf du Plessis and the acclaimed batsman Mr AB de Villiers. However, cricket-watchers know that the visiting squad — largely youthful — is packed with exciting talent and will be very difficult to beat.
The West Indies Test squad, fresh from a four-day warm-up game which ended Thursday, look forward to the start of the first Test starting in a week's time, knowing they must be at their very best.
Hopefully, all being well, cricket fans, glued to their television sets and various digital devices, will not only see the West Indies do well, but experience high-quality entertainment.
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