If you'd given South Africa a 2-0 Test series sweep and an opportunity to win the T20I rubber with a game to spare before they'd set off for West Indies, they would have taken it in a heartbeat. This team landed in the Caribbean low on confidence, positive results and trophies but they could leave having turned around all three.
South Africa can wrap up the series on Thursday and take an unassailable lead into the final match on Saturday, a result that will give Temba Bavuma and Mark Boucher their first series successes in T20I cricket as captain and coach and some breathing room to play with team balance. So far, it seems South Africa have yet to get it exactly right, with a middle-order that appears a batter short and an attack that lacks sixth and seventh bowling options.
The only way to change that is to include more allrounders, but South Africa are reistsing that and want to see this combination play together a little longer. If it works, who can argue? Especially if it gives them their first T20I series win in seven series. Yes, it's been that long. Since September 2019, South Africa have drawn a series against India and lost to England (twice), Australia and Pakistan (twice). While they have had a tough 18 months in all formats, the shortest one is what they most urgently need to get right, ahead of the T20 World Cup.
West Indies, the defending champions, also have one eye on the tournament and packed their squad with superstars. For the most part, they have not really come off. Chris Gayle and Andre Russell have not had any stand-out moments in the series so far, Kieron Pollard's form is a concern and while Dwayne Bravo has been excellent with the ball, he is batting too low in the line-up to make an impact. The flip side of all that is that it has allowed the younger players to blossom.
Obed McCoy and Kevin Sinclair and Fabian Allen have shown the depth in the West Indies ranks. If the big-names can fire alongside them, West Indies will be even more difficult to beat.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
West Indies LLWWL South Africa WWLLL
In the spotlight
Left-arm seamer Obed McCoy is the leading wicket-taker (seven) in the series so far and is displaying the kind of skill that South Africa's attack has lacked. Not only does McCoy have the advantage of a different angle (South Africa have Beuran Hendricks in reserve if they want to try that) but he has also mastered variations of pace. His back-of-the-hand slower ball has had the better of the opposition batters and he poses a threat throughout the innings, making him a versatile option for captain Pollard. McCoy is certain to feature in West Indies' major tournament plans and would want to do his bit in helping them in pressure situations like the next two matches.
It's worth remembering that Imran Tahir has not retired from T20I cricket and South Africa could still call on him for the T20 World Cup if they want to, but Tabraiz Shamsi has given them enough reasons not to. Shamsi has established himself as the first-choice white-ball spinner with the dual ability to strike and hold an end. Shamsi put in his most economical performance in Tuesday's match, which set South Africa on course for victory, and his overall numbers make him the most miserly bowler in the series. In 12 overs so far, Shamsi has conceded at a rate of 4.66 to the over and is the only bowler from both sides to give away less than six runs an over.
Jason Holder, who was used at No. 3 in the previous game, has been rested as part of his workload management which could create room for the return of Chris Gayle and the retention of Shimron Hetmyer. Left-arm spinner Akeal Hosein replaces Sinclair in the squad as the selectors assess various options.
Lendl Simmons and Evin Lewis formed a relatively good pairing at the top of the order but the experiment of promoting Jason Holder to No.3 and using Shimron Hetmeyer at No.4 in the last game did not work. Gayle may find his way back in the team for this must-win game and more will be expected of Pollard and Nicholas Pooran.
West Indies (probable): 1 Lendl Simmons, 2 Evin Lewis, 3 Chris Gayle, 4 Shimron Hetmeyer, 5 Kieron Pollard (capt), 6 Nicholas Pooran (wk), 7 Andre Russell, 8 Dwayne Bravo, 9 Fabian Allen, 10 Akeal Hosein, 11 Obed McCoy
South African benefitted from having an extra bowling option in their XI even though Aiden Markram's primary focus should be adding impetus to the middle-order. Apart from finding a spot for Kyle Verreynne, there's not much else South Africa can do to try and get more batters in but they may still want to consider a seam-bowling allrounder in place of one of the specialist quicks.
South Africa (probable): 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Reeza Hendricks, 3 Temba Bavuma (capt), 4 Rassie van der Dussen, 5 Aiden Markram, 6 David Miller, 7 George Linde, 8 Kagiso Rabada, 9 Anrich Nortje, 10 Lungi Ngidi, 11 Tabraiz Shamsi
Pitch and conditions
After blue skies and sunshine on Tuesday, the wet weather is back with rain predicted throughout Wednesday and Thursday. That may mean a more sluggish outfield, as we saw in the first two matches, and a little less in it for the spinners. The first-innings scores in all three matches so far have been under 170, though both teams seem to think 180 would be par so if the line-ups can get their middle-orders firing, we may see more runs.
Stats and trivia
The last time South Africa won a T20I series was against Sri Lanka in March 2019.
West Indies have won two of the last three T20I series, both against Sri Lanka.
We went death from the 10th over to the 20th over, so that was really good. And there are positives with our batting. We started well in the Powerplay. We lost that game for ourselves. It's not like we are being beaten badly. We need to stay confident and positive. Nicholas Pooran does not think West Indies are far away from winning another match in this series.
We play way too much cricket for me to keep up with everything. Probably at a point in my life when I am closer towards the end of my career, maybe then (I will count milestones). Quinton de Kock was not aware that the previous game was his 50th T20I until David Miller capped him.
The article was updated with West Indies team news