South Africa v West Indies, 3rd Test, Durban January 9, 2008

Injury-hit West Indies face uphill struggle

Chris Gayle will miss the deciding Test in Durban, further exposing an already shaky batting line-up © Getty Images

It might have escaped your attention, but several thousand miles away from the controversies in Australia, another Test match is about to get underway: the deciding third match between South Africa and West Indies in Durban.

Prior to this series, few gave West Indies much hope of upsetting South Africa at home, and yet they approach the third Test level-pegging at 1-1. They caught South Africa snoozing in the first at Port Elizabeth, with an allround batting performance (inevitably dominated by Shivnarine Chanderpaul), and in spite of a number of injuries, they clawed at South Africa's coat-tails doggedly for much of the second in Cape Town.

The injuries have taken their toll, though, and West Indies' chances of claiming their first series win over South Africa since 1992 are looking desperate. Chris Gayle, whose laid back leadership style clearly suits this young side, broke his left thumb in Cape Town and will miss out, exposing an already shaky batting lineup. And there is enough doubt over Fidel Edwards (hamstring) to suggest that even if he does make the final XI, he won't be firing on all cylinders.

Neither, it seems, will Dale Steyn whose hamstring injury has limited his preparations for Thursday. "He'll probably only bowl (in the nets) at about 70 percent," Mickey Arthur, the South Africa coach said yesterday. "He is making some nice improvement, but we'll probably only have final clarity on the morning of [the Test]. (sic)"

Should Steyn miss out, the decision South Africa take on his replacement could have a bearing on the future of their bowling attack. Shaun Pollock is tipped to return, but hot on his heels is Monde Zondeki, almost a decade his junior, who has been in blistering form this season.

The most encouraging aspect of South Africa's seven-wicket win in Cape Town was the return to form of Graeme Smith, who elbowed his way into rhythm with a pugnacious 85. The question of who opens with Smith continues to divide opinion though, and with Neil McKenzie ruled out with a calf muscle tear, Herschelle Gibbs (who was dropped in place of McKenzie in Cape Town) gets a recall.

On the eve of the match, all eyes are on the Kingsmead pitch. With heavy rain over the past few days, the groundsmen are behind schedule and it could be another slow, low surface - which is not ideal for a series which deserves a competitive finale.


South Africa (probable) Graeme Smith (capt), Herschelle Gibbs, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Ashwell Prince, AB de Villiers, Mark Boucher (wk), Paul Harris, Shaun Pollock, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini,

West Indies (probable) Devon Smith, Daren Ganga, Runako Morton, Marlon Samuels, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Dwayne Bravo (capt), Denesh Ramdin (wk), Darren Sammy, Rawl Lewis, Jerome Taylor, Daren Powell

Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo