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Analysis

Blackwood urges West Indies to 'learn and learn fast' due to lack of Tests

Rabada also bats for more Tests for South Africa, says "it needs to be prioritised a lot more"

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
02-Mar-2023
Jermaine Blackwood goes over the top, South Africa vs West Indies, 1st Test, Centurion, 3rd day, March 2, 2023

Jermaine Blackwood's 79 wasn't enough for WI to save the Test  •  AFP/Getty Images

It wasn't quite the blockbuster end Jason Holder predicted, but the first Test between South Africa and West Indies was perfectly poised as a nail-biter after the visitors were set 247 to win. Even on a surface with signs of uneven bounce and something in it for the seamers throughout, the target was gettable but a lack of application from West Indies batters and the aggression and intensity of South Africa's attack proved the difference.
The best example of that happened early in the West Indies chase when Tagenarine Chanderpaul got through the new-ball bowlers but then succumbed to the pressure they created.
He should have been out for a duck when he edged Anrich Nortje's third delivery but Keegan Petersen, at third slip, moved in front of Aiden Markram at second and dropped it. Chanderpaul also could have been out for three when South Africa reviewed an lbw appeal that was turned down on-field, and replays showed umpire's call on hitting the stumps.
Understandably, he would have been on edge. But after those two scares, he survived hostile spells from Kagiso Rabada and Nortje which included being floored by a Rabada short ball that stayed low and being hit by Nortje. He even looked as though he settled in when he drilled Rabada down the ground for one of the shots of the day. In playing that stroke, he should have known he had laid the groundwork for a long innings, where things were not going to get easier.
After Rabada and Nortje, South Africa have Marco Jansen and Gerald Coetzee. The pace doesn't decrease. The short balls also get more vicious. A batter's concentration cannot waver, but Chanderpaul's did. He slapped Jansen's first delivery to mid-on, flashed at the second, which was a short, wide ball and then top-edged a bouncer to mid-wicket, where Nortje ran around to take the catch. Chanderpaul had earned the right to bat through the afternoon but gave it away. It may seem harsh to single out a player in only his fifth Test, but it tells the story of why batting line-ups like West Indies and South Africa's will take much longer than India's or England's to get better.
Chanderpaul has enjoyed a fantastic start to his career, which began in Australia late last year. He already has a half-century and a double hundred to his name, and (we can't avoid this) he is living up to the reputation that comes with his name. But, he will not play a Test at home until July, when West Indies host India. Between now and then, he only has two more opportunities to test himself against an international attack - against South Africa at the Wanderers next week.
By then, he will already have to show that he has absorbed the lessons from this match because West Indies have such limited opportunities to play. "We need to be more selective with the way we go about our business. Today, we gave our wicket away a little bit too easy and too soft. If we had stayed very positive, we could have got the runs. We will have to learn and learn fast because we are facing quality bowling," Jermaine Blackwood, West Indies' second innings top scorer, said.
Much like South Africa, West Indies' bowling is their strong suit and it's the batters who need as much time in the middle as they can get. Only Blackwood and Markram batted with fluency, with Markram's century and his opening stand with Dean Elgar in the first innings giving South Africa's attack the cushion they needed to win the first Test. "If you look at our batters and young bowlers, we would like them to mature in this format," Kagiso Rabada said. "It's just really unfortunate, but whenever we do get the chance, it means we have to learn pretty quickly."
Rabada's comments come a day after Holder and Nortje made similar points at the end of day two, when they discussed how difficult it may be for them to reach milestones like cricketers of eras past, given how little they play. Kemar Roach, who became West Indies' fifth-leading bowler and went past Joel Garner in this Test concurred with that. "West Indies deserves some more Test cricket. We have been competing pretty well for the last two years in the World Test Championship (WTC). The ICC can probably look at giving some of the lower-tier teams some more Test series," he said.
"Two-Test series are pretty tough. By the time you get a rhythm, the series is over. Three Tests would be more acceptable."
Roach wants West Indies to play three-Test series
West Indies finished eighth in the 2019-2021 WTC cycle and are sixth in this tournament but have earned some decent results in that time, including a home series win over England last year. England are the only opposition that West Indies play two-Test series against and that is also something Roach would like to see change."Two-Test series are pretty tough. By the time you get a rhythm, the series is over. Three Tests would be more acceptable," he said.
South Africa now find themselves in a similar position, with no three-Test series scheduled until they host England in 2026. Their calendar has been dictated by the need to accommodate for the SA20 in the prime summer period and the cost of hosting Test matches, which has seen them minimised. It's not what the players want though, with Temba Bavuma calling it "frustrating," and Rabada explaining how it impacts their development.
"I see Test cricket as the pinnacle of the game, and a lot of the players in the change-room, if not all, would see that. It is a disappointing aspect, especially if you look at our team and the potential we possess. The only way we can get better is by playing as much Test cricket as possible," Rabada said. "I would like to see a change in the future. If you look at all the other nations, they are playing a lot more Test cricket. It needs to be prioritised a lot more. I am not in charge of that, but at least I can ask."
Over to you, administrators.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket