The West Indies won the first test by 128 runs, on the 4th day. It was an unexpected display, a fairytale win and their first test victory in 2.5 years. The West Indians dominated the game from the word go, the only time they looked to be in trouble was in their dismal second innings. The damage had been done in the first and the measly 175 left SA with too much to chase with a malfunctioning top order.
The South African selectors are going to have to ask some serious questions about their batsman. Gibbs didn’t get off the mark and has been struggling in the test arena for the past few seasons, whilst Smith hasn’t been much better. Gibbs averaged 45.6 in the 04/05 season, 15.1 in 05/06, 26.9 in 06/07 and 21.9 in the current 07/08 season. Smith made 39.2 in 04/05, 31.4 for 05/06, 32.8 in 06/07 and 33 for the current season. These figures aren’t pleasing especially when you consider “the rock” of the side Jacques Kallis has averaged 67 in 04/05, 38.2 in 05/06 44.1 06/07 and 121.7 for the current season.
The South African commentators have been talking about bringing Neil McKenzie back into the fray, which has some merit as he has been performing in the domestic competitions. Personally Morne van Wyk would be my answer, he is a classy player who can open the batting which is the biggest headache SA are facing. The current combination isn’t working and De Villiers struggled up the as well. He has had a good season in the middle order and it would be costly to meddle with his position.
To illustrate the problem in the top order, South Africa lost their first 4 wickets for a combined total of 108!! There are very few sides that would be happy being 4 down with only 108 on the board, in their first innings, yet SA were 63/4 and 45/4 in each innings. What is more frightening is that the last 4 wickets produced 93 runs just 15 less than the top-order!!!
The South African bowlers struggled in the first innings, especially Dale Steyn who lacked the rhythm he has had all season. Apart from this the West indies played fantastically, starting off with Gayle tearing the attack apart, followed by contribution from everyone and another excellent performance by Chanderpaul who had an incredible season, being denied in the second innings from scoring a 50 or more in every innings of the year. He managed 7 in a row, with one of them being in 2006. it is an incredible feat and without him, the Windies would still be searching for a Test win against decent opposition.
The second innings saw a worrying collapse for the Windies 6 wickets fell for 21 runs, before Taylor had a little cameo knock.
I genuinely believed it would be a question of how much the Windies would lose by not would they lose? It has certainly made the second test more appealing, South Africa will be looking to even the series, whilst the Windies would be feeling something many of the players haven’t felt before, a sense of pride, a knowing they are indeed good enough to compete.
Questions about Smith’s tenure are surely being asked, it was a huge error to allow the West Indies a first taste of the pitch, one which they savoured, taking the game away from SA by lunch on the second day. They followed this with a fine bowling display which was lacking in the series against England. The West Indies might be slightly undercooked on the batting front, however their firepower in the field can and has made up for this.