The last time South Africa traveled to the Caribbean, they won the three-match Test series 2-0 with a 163-run win at the Queen's Park Oval and a seven-wicket win at the Kensington Oval interrupted by a draw at Warner Park. But things are completely different this time around.
The Proteas have played three Tests in 2021, with their last series coming away in Pakistan. South Africa lost both matches under the leadership of Quinton de Kock, who has since been replaced by Dean Elgar at the helm. Faf du Plessis is no longer part of the Test setup, having decided to focus on T20I cricket in particular.
West Indies, meanwhile, have played four Tests this calendar year. By beating Bangladesh by narrow margins in both matches, they clinched the away series 2-0. Kraigg Brathwaite, who led the team on that tour, was then appointed the permanent Test captain in place of Jason Holder, and he oversaw two draws in a two-Test rubber against Sri Lanka.
WI vs SA 2021: West Indies vs South Africa 1st Test Match Prediction
West Indies and South Africa come into this series with similar intentions. Both teams have undergone a change in captaincy recently and are looking to strike the right balance between youth and experience.
For the visitors, captain Elgar will have a massive role to play at the top of the order. Highly-rated youngsters like Wiaan Mulder and Keegan Petersen might get the opportunity to make an impression in a series where there isn't much pressure, while Aiden Markram and vice-captain Temba Bavuma will bolster the batting lineup.
Led by Kagiso Rabada, who will be supported by Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi, the Proteas' pace attack is superb. Keshav Maharaj has been incredibly consistent for South Africa in red-ball cricket, so the batting probably holds the key to them doing well in the series. George Linde, if he makes the playing XI, is another one to watch out for.
West Indies will want their middle-order batsmen like Kyle Mayers, Nkrumah Bonner and Jermaine Blackwood to support captain Brathwaite and Darren Bravo. Mayers and Blackwood have had historic moments in the second innings of matches, while Bonner has taken to Test cricket like a duck to water.
Star all-rounder Roston Chase returns to the side. But he may not find a place in the playing XI with the pitch in St Lucia favoring the pacers and Rahkeem Cornwall having done extremely well for the Windies in 2021.
Like South Africa, West Indies have a potent seam-bowling attack. Jason Holder has overcome the disappointment of losing captaincy to notch up consistent performances in both departments, while Shannon Gabriel and Kemar Roach are two of the smartest Test bowlers going around at the moment.
On paper, both teams are extremely evenly matched. However, the hosts could have the edge, not only because of their recent form in the Test format but also because South Africa will find themselves in alien conditions.
Elgar's side, playing under a completely new captain in a country they haven't visited in around 11 years, may not be able to adjust quick enough. Moreover, they haven't won an away Test since July 2017 and an away series since March 2017.
Many players have pulled West Indies out of difficult situations in Tests over the last year or so. The team seems to be settled and on an upward trend under Brathwaite, with senior players and youngsters combining well to produce results.
At the end of the day, South Africa too have a world-class playing XI that could easily win the Test if a couple of sessions go their way. But it's tough to pick against West Indies for the series opener. The match ending in a draw is another distinct possibility, just like the previous series against Sri Lanka.
Prediction: West Indies to win
Looking forward for Shikhar Dhawan's captaincy! - Yuvraj Singh in an exclusive Interview with SK