South Africa, West Indies and the fight to protect Test cricket

Just underneath the West Indies’ crest on his practice kit, Kraigg Brathwaite wears a badge of personal significance. It’s a photograph of his late grandparents, one of whom passed away just two years ago, and if he could, he would put it on his match day whites as well.

credit : – cricketcountry

While that’s not allowed, Brathwaite has the pin on him at all other times, to keep his relatives close to his heart and take them with him wherever he goes, even as close to the cricket field as possible.

“Test cricket means a lot to us in West Indies,” Brathwaite said, ahead of the second Test against South Africa in Johannesburg. “Our fans really follow Test cricket a lot and they want the Test team to do well.”

That may sound like an overly optimistic statement to make, given the decline of West Indies as a Test power and especially given their record on the road. They last won an away series against a top eight team in 1995, when Brathwaite was three years old, no-one else in the squad was older than seven and five others had yet to be born.

The glory days are well beyond any of their current recollections, though doubtless they’ve been regaled with stories of that old dominance and have dreams of reaching those peaks again. But in a climate of T20 leagues, where Test matches outside of those between India, Australia and England feel low-profile, it will be very very difficult.

Against that backdrop, Braithwaite is a chip off the old block. He is now a one-format player – 13th on the West Indies all-time Test run-scorer’s list – his last ODI was nearly six years ago and he hasn’t played any T20 cricket. At all. If it were up to him, West Indies would play more Tests, more often and would progressively improve.

“You learn from playing. These two back to back tours – Zimbabwe and South Africa – have been good. You get rhythm,” Braithwaite said. “Some guys may not have done well but I think the more you play, the more you get familiar and it’s just better for us, as cricketers. When it’s spaced out so far, sometimes it’s tough.”

South Africa are about to experience how tough that could be. They have no Test cricket scheduled for the next nine months and only play two-Test series until 2026. For a team that reached No.1 in the world just over a decade ago, their slide into a sort of obscurity has come quicker than expected, and everyone from star seamer Kagiso Rabada to new red-ball coach Shukri Conrad wants to stop it.

While Rabada asked for Tests to be “prioritised a lot more,” Conrad believes dwindling interest, despite what Braithwaite said, is one symptom of where things are going wrong. “Our and their proud traditions and heritage should be ample proof that we need to play more Test cricket.

We cannot be excluded on the basis of not being leading lights in Test cricket. We are, and so are the West Indies” Conrad said. “But the sad reality is, in places like the West Indies and hopefully not here, the lack of Test cricket might mean that interest starts waning. That’s a place you never want to reach, because once a youngster doesn’t have the desire to play for his country that spells the beginning of the end.”

Roach is the oldest member of the West Indies touring party. He is their fifth-highest wicket-taker now, going past Joel Garner’s tally of 259 in the first Test. He still wants to play for “two, three, four, five, six, seven…” years because he’s still motivated by his team-mates and “wanting to get amongst the greats.”

If there’s one thing this series is showing is, it’s that there’s life in this old format yet, even in places where it seems there may not be.

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