Form and history point to South Africa
The second-ranked team takes on the eighth-ranked one in a three-Test series that begins in Trinidad, which means South Africa have plenty to lose and little to gain. A 3-0 win won't change their ranking, and will only push up their total points tally by one (from 120 to 121); however, if the series is drawn, South Africa will slip behind Australia to third place, while a 1-0 loss will push them below Sri Lanka to fourth. To maintain their No.2 rank, South Africa need to win the series.
Going by past record and current form, though, you'd have to favour the visitors - they blanked West Indies 5-0 in the ODIs, and have an excellent Test record against them. Overall, South Africa have a 14-3 win-loss record against their Caribbean rivals in 22 Tests, though it isn't quite as bad in the West Indies, with South Africa winning four times and losing twice. One of those two defeats was in their first Test after returning to the international fold, when they crashed to a 52-run defeat against Curtly Ambrose and co.
|Tests||West Indies won||South Africa won||Drawn|
|In South Africa||12||1||10||1|
|In West Indies||10||2||4||4|
As the table above shows, Tests between these two teams in South Africa have almost always produced decisive results; however, in West Indies, the draw has played a major role, with four of them in the last nine matches. The conditions in the Caribbean, where slow and low pitches are a norm these days, have played a huge role: teams have scored at about two-and-a-half runs per over, with West Indies marginally above the South Africans. There have been 22 centuries scored in these games, with the honours shared almost evenly between the two teams.
|Team||Tests||Runs per wkt||Runs per over||100s/ 50s|
|West Indies||9||32.31||2.72||10/ 16|
|South Africa||9||37.07||2.52||12/ 17|
Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher are the two South Africans who have played in every Test between these two teams barring the first one. Kallis has been especially prolific, scoring seven hundreds in 21 Tests; in the West Indies, though, his average falls to 50.69, with two centuries in nine games. Graeme Smith, however, has relished the slower conditions of the West Indies, with three hundreds and a half-century in seven innings.
|Batsman||Overall v WI - Tests||Average||100s/ 50s||In WI - Tests||Average||100s/ 50s|
|Jacques Kallis||21||74.03||7/ 11||9||50.69||2/ 4|
|Graeme Smith||11||71.88||6/ 2||4||84.16||3/ 1|
|AB de Villiers||7||64.27||3/ 3||4||65.71||2/ 1|
|Ashwell Prince||6||77.00||2/ 1||3||66.33||1/ 0|
|Hashim Amla||3||35.00||0/ 1||-||-||-|
|Mark Boucher||21||27.60||2/ 2||9||19.83||0/ 1|
West Indies have had a torrid time in international cricket over the last several years, but their home record is considerably better than their overseas numbers. Since 2000, they've won 12 and lost 19 at home, while the corresponding away numbers are six and 38.
The absence of Ramnaresh Sarwan, though, could be a blow to their hopes of causing an upset. Sarwan has been the leading run-scorer in home Tests for West Indies since 2000, scoring 3411 runs at an average touching 50. In Sarwan's absence, the onus of getting the runs on the board will fall on Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who averages 60 in 70 home innings.
The venue for the first Test, the Queen's Park Oval in Trinidad, should boost South Africa's chances further: they've won both Tests here, in 2001 and in 2005. West Indies, on the other hand, have had a poor record here since 2000, losing five times and winning only twice, against Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka. That seven out of eight Tests during this period have produced results is also encouraging - the only draw was against England last year.
The innings-wise stats here since 2000 also indicates it's best to bat first at this ground - the first-innings average is 39.52 runs per wicket, and it gradually reduces to 34.82, 26.05 and 24.57 in the next three innings.
And while historically the pitch here has tended to help spinners, more recently the fast bowlers seem to have enjoyed the variable bounce more: in the eight Tests since 2000, spinners average 39.92 runs per wicket, with Muttiah Muralitharan the only one to take a five-for; fast bowlers, on the other hand, average 29.78, with six five-wicket hauls.