WEST INDIES’ captain Chris Gayle is optimistic the Caribbean cricketers can cope with the likely extra bounce at Kensington Oval to square the three-match Digicel Test series against South Africa.Heartened by a dull draw in a high-scoring second Test in St Kitts on a Warner Park featherbed that produced 1 324 runs, Gayle said that getting 20 South African wickets was key to winning at a venue where they had not lost a Test between 1948 and 1993, but had only won one against Pakistan (2005) in the last seven years.Such was the Windies’ dominance at “the Mecca” of Caribbean cricket that they won 12 consecutive Tests between 1978 and 1993, including a first over the Proteas in the boycotted 1992 one-off Test, which heralded South Africa’s return to the Test arena.
But the last time the teams met here in 2005, South Africa handed the West Indies one of their most humiliating losses – by an innings and 86 runs.Gayle, who needs a mere 23 runs – in what is his 88th Test – to become the ninth West Indian to reach 6 000 Test runs, said he was hoping to get his first century of the series and set up a series-equalling victory for his team. “Leading from the front is always good [as] I try to set the tone for the team. Getting two half-centuries [so far] is pretty decent, but at the same time I would love to capitalise on those starts and get a big one against tough opponents,” Gayle said.“This is the final game. We are looking forward to it, and it is a must-win to actually try and square the series so hopefully, we can get 20 wickets and then get the runs on the board,” Gayle said.Gayle said it was encouraging to see West Indies’ second highest run-scorer Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who needs a further 124 runs for 9 000 Test runs, and Brendan Nash making centuries in St Kitts, while Narsingh Deonarine and Dwayne Bravo got half-centuries.“Hopefully, the guys can continue. It was a good batting display and hopefully, we can be more consistent and hope it’s not a one-off thing,” Gayle said.But he reckons the pitch at Kensington, with its reputation for helping the faster bowlers – even though last year’s Test against England yielded 1 649 runs for 17 wickets – may favour their opponents.“It may be a bouncy track again and might be suitable to the South African quicks as well, but at the same time, it is our hometown and we should be accustomed to these conditions as much as possible and try to adapt and execute out there,” he said.Still Gayle hopes the pitch will actually assist the new spin twins, Sulieman Benn and Shane Shillingford. Both are six-footers, unlike the shorter pacers Kemar Roach and Nelon Pascal in a very inexperienced Windies’ attack. “When you look at the way the games have [been] played . . . those conditions were totally suitable to South Africa . . . We have two capable spinners in our team and maybe a wicket like Guyana could’ve actually play a part for us at the same time,” he noted.
“Like I keep mentioning, these things are something we need to take on board more seriously if we do want to win more games. We have to try and let the home advantage suit us more, but at the same time this is how it is and we just have to try and work with what is provided for us,” Gayle acknowledged.He said the West Indies must take control of the match from the first session and maintain it throughout. “We have to take the plot from the first session, whether we are batting or bowling or just to do the basic things right. Try to get a start and whenever we do actually get a start, try and capitalise on it as much as possible because, if you get a sniff, you don’t want to let South Africa back into the game, so we have to be mindful of that,” he said.The West Indies have not beaten South Africa in any format in their last 17 clashes since the Test triumph in Port Elizabeth in 2007, and Gayle conceded there weren’t many weak areas in the South Africa team. “They are an experienced team. It is difficult to pinpoint a particular area to try and block them out. The only area we can actually point out is, maybe, block out their two key bowlers, (Dale) Steyn and (Morne) Morkel, who are doing the damage for their team mostly.“In the batting department, if someone doesn’t actually get a score, there’s always someone else there to step up, so hopefully they can actually crumble. They are all humans and anything can happen out there in the middle,” Gayle said.Opposing captain Graeme Smith said they were looking to close out the series with another victory.“We have had an excellent tour of the West Indies so far, and it would be a pity not to finish it off on a high note,” he said.TEAMSWest Indies (from): Chris Gayle (captain), Dale Richards, Narsingh Deonarine, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Brendan Nash, Dwayne Bravo, Denesh Ramdin, Sulieman Benn, Shane Shillingford, Kemar Roach, Nelon Pascal. Darren Bravo.South Africa: (likely): Graeme Smith (captain), Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB deVilliers, Ashwell Prince, Mark Boucher, Dale Steyn, Paul Harris or Johan Botha, Morne Morkel, Tonwabo Tsotsobe.