GROS ISLET, St Lucia – Head coach Phil Simmons has cautioned West Indies not to take South Africa lightly in the upcoming two-Test series, and believes his side will need to step up a gear from recent performances, if they are to break their long-running winless streak against the tourists.
West Indies have made a strong start to the new year, drubbing Bangladesh 2-0 away last February before playing competitively to draw both Tests against Sri Lanka when the Asian side toured the Caribbean a month later.
The performances propelled West Indies to sixth in the International Cricket Council rankings – their highest ranking in nearly a decade and one notch higher than South Africa.
However, Simmons said even though the home side were confident, the visitors presented a formidable challenge which West Indies needed to be ready to counter when the series bowled off on Thursday.
“The belief is there, the confidence is there. We’re above South Africa [in the rankings] but that doesn’t mean anything for me on Thursday morning,” Simmons warned.
“I think we’ve got to put ourselves in a position by playing proper cricket and I think it’s getting to the stage where people know performance matters because we have seen what has happened since Bangladesh.
“I think that’s the important part we have improved on. Everyone knows performances will keep you in the team or get you out of the team, so that’s where we start from.
“There’s no under-rating South Africa because they’re below us but I know the guys are up for it.”
South Africa have been set back by a flurry of retirements in recent years with the likes of batsmen AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis all quitting the longest format.
Pace spearhead Dale Steyn also quit the game two years ago along with fast-bowling all-rounder Vernon Philander, a year after experienced fellow seamer Morne Morkel retired.
And though South Africa have travelled with a relatively inexperienced 19-man squad which includes six debutants, Simmons said they remained a “quality” unit which deserved respect.
“It’s always going to be hard playing against South Africa. They’ve got a quality team and we need to play even better than we played in our last four Test matches,” the Trinidadian pointed out.
“No disrespect to the other teams we played against but we know the rich quality that South Africa have and we’ve just got to step it up.
“We’ve got to go one per cent better than we were in our last game and keep getting that. [We’ve got] up to six [in the ICC Test rankings] but getting to six is just the start of things. We want to be up at the top and we need to play like we want to be there.”
He continued: “Any team you come up against, you have to look for where you can exploit them. They are very strong at the top with the captain (Dean Elgar) and then later down with guys like (Quinton) de Kock.
“But you still have to get everyone out, and I think we have to bowl well at their middle order to get them out and get down to the [lower] order because they seem to have batting a long way down.”
West Indies were thwarted by a flat track in Antigua for the two Tests against Sri Lanka recently, the four-pronged pace attack, along with off-spinner Rahkeem Cornwall, struggling for wickets.
And Simmons said taking 20 wickets will be the Caribbean side’s main aim in the coming Tests.
“I think the improvement I would like to see for the Test match is our ability to get the 20 wickets that we need to [win],” the former West Indies all-rounder stressed.
“I think we did it in Bangladesh on helpful wickets. When the wicket wasn’t that helpful in Antigua, we struggled to do it. This wicket might be helpful, it might be flat – we’ll see when Thursday comes.
“But that’s what I want to see: our ability to get the 20 wickets that we need to win Test matches.”
West Indies have not beaten South Africa in a series in nearly three decades. (CMC)