Proteas: Will virus crisis extend their Caribbean drought?

Mark Boucher (Getty Images)
Mark Boucher (Getty Images)

Touring the West Indies is desperately overdue by the South African Test team.

But the global coronavirus crisis being suitably quelled by then will determine whether the Proteas break - in July - an unusually long-time drought in bilateral five-day combat in the Caribbean.

An extraordinary 32 further Test series have taken place for South Africa, either home or away, since they last tackled these foes in their largely island-based strongholds back in 2010, even if that period includes one visit by West Indies to our soil in 2014/15.

So if the 2020 trek were to be imperilled by ongoing Covid-19 concerns - and touch wood, not - more than a decade would have gone by without longest-form activity between the two there.

For the time being the series remains safely rooted to the international schedule: the Proteas are due to play two Tests, as part of the ongoing World Test Championship, at Port of Spain (Trinidad) and then Gros Islet.

It will be their only action as a Test outfit during the South African off-season, as Twenty20 fare is much more common for Quinton de Kock and company in the gradual lead-up to the next ICC T20 World Cup in Australia during October.

Included on the Caribbean mission by the Proteas will be a five-match T20 series.

South Africa are a little less rusty when it comes to white-ball combat in the West Indies, as they took part in a one-day international Tri-Series, also featuring Australia, in 2016.

But purists will still be extremely keen to see Test matches again between the two there, despite the hosts not being nearly the majestic, fearsome force of old in that arena - the Windies lie a lowly eighth on the rankings at present and have tended to prioritise limited-overs play in recent years.

Slowly getting their act back together in white-ball cricket under the guidance of main coaches Mark Boucher and Enoch Nkwe toward the back end of the just-ended home season, the Proteas arguably have more to do to get their Test fortunes more shipshape again, following the ultimately clear-cut 3-1 home reverse to England.

It was their third series loss on the trot, following a 3-0 away drubbing from India and shock 2-0 home setback against Sri Lanka in the previous local summer.

The short series in the Caribbean, if it is able to get the green light, will be an important opportunity to begin that turnaround quest: at very worst, it is unlikely South Africa would be routed, something that runs the risk of creating further mental scarring and self-doubt for a few of their personnel.

All cricket in South Africa was suspended last week for two months due to the pandemic, but there would still be ample time for the Test-level Proteas to begin preparing - in drier, warmer parts of the country - for a West Indies tour in the middle of the home winter.

Their hosts are due to visit England for a three-Test series first, in June, and that looks a little touch-and-go as things stand, with so many countries in lockdown and the English cricket season to have a delayed start.

Numerous members of the SA squad that is eventually chosen for the Tests in the Caribbean will have little to no experience of either playing there, specifically, or against West Indies at all in five-day mode.

When they played here in 2014/15 (South Africa won the three-Test series 2-0), now-retired Hashim Amla was the Proteas' captain and only Dean Elgar, Temba Bavuma (his debut series) and Faf du Plessis are still active in the format.

The 2010 pilgrimage to the Caribbean (again won 2-0 by SA, three Tests) featured Proteas players who are all right out of the Test picture nowadays - like now head coach Boucher, skipper Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Amla, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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