The West Indies are famous for producing the most ferocious fast bowling attack of all time, but conditions in the Caribbean have changed so much since then that low and slow pitches are now far more common than hard tracks with pace and bounce.
South Africa, nevertheless, have won their last three series in the West Indies largely through the use of menacing pace bowling. Of the Proteas bowlers who have taken more than 10 wickets over there, Allan Donald (20), Andre Nel (17), Dale Steyn (15) and Morne Morkel (14) all average less than 25.
Jacques Kallis, who was certainly genuinely quick when the mood grabbed him, has taken the most wickets (27) on tour there, but played four more Tests (12) than any other bowler.
Left-arm spinner Nicky Boje is the third-highest wicket-taker, but his 20 scalps came at an average of 40.55.
Current coach Mark Boucher also played 12 Tests in the Caribbean and it looks like the Proteas will be backing their fast bowlers again when the first Test starts on Thursday at Gros Islet, St Lucia.
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“These are new conditions for us because we have not played here in the rainy season, normally it’s warmer and dryer,” bowling coach Charl Langeveldt said.
“But it has felt more like England, overcast, and although I have never seen it rain over here before, the last three days have been rainy. So there is a lot of movement and we are using the Duke ball and not the Kookaburra we used to over here. The Duke stays harder for longer and ball-maintenance will be key.
“We have got the right balance in the bowlers we have over here, we have four seamers that are probably hoping to play and then a spinner. Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi are all different and Keshav Maharaj can bowl well on any surface. Then there’s Wiaan Mulder too.”
So it seems unlikely that wrist-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi will play and George Linde, who kind of does the JP Duminy role of back-up spinner who can bat, is likely to lose out to seam-bowling all-rounder Mulder.
Langeveldt admitted that the Proteas have not done themselves justice in Test cricket recently, and new captain Dean Elgar is certainly giving his team no peace about it in their team chats so far.
“We really want to turn our Test cricket around and the captain has talked about doing the basics for the longest,” Langeveldt said.
“It might mean boring cricket, but that’s what you want in Test cricket. Dean certainly brings something different, he demands professionalism, discipline and that team ethos, which is something we’ve needed to revisit.
“He has asked the senior players to lead by example and to speak to the youngsters. We need to keep our disciplines for long periods.”