Johannesburg - The Proteas' Castle Test squad defends one of its proudest records when Graeme Smith leads them in the first of three Tests against the West Indies at Trinidad's Queen's Park Oval from Thursday.
At stake is the Sir Vivian Richards Trophy which the Proteas have held ever since its inception on the 2001 tour of the Caribbean.
The Proteas also need a resounding series victory to stay on target to challenge India for the No. 1 position on the ICC Reliance Mobile Test rankings.
South Africa have two away series against the West Indies and Pakistan (the latter at the neutral venue of the United Arab Emirates) while India have a home series against Australia before No. 1 and No. 2 (on current standings) go head to head in the Castle Test series - one of the highlights of the Proteas' home 2010-11 summer.
Although the Proteas have an outstanding Test series record in the West Indies, winning 2-1 in 2001 and 2-0 in 2005, they will not be taking anything for granted. "The first Test is pivotal," commented Smith, "and it is important that we are on top of our game right from the start of the series.
"Anybody, who watched last year's series on TV between the West Indies and England, will have noticed that, after the Windies won the first match, the pitches got flatter as the series progressed."
The weather has hampered the Proteas' pre-match practice but their preparation is likely to be more mental than anything else. Most of the players have had more than enough 'middle' time in the West Indies during the two limited overs series and conditions are not likely to be a lot different for the five-day series.
There are two new arrivals in Test squad regulars Ashwell Prince and Paul Harris but they also have recent good form. Prince comes off half-a-dozen matches for Lancashire in the England county championship in which he averaged in the mid-40s while Harris took part in the South Africa A tour of Bangladesh and took nine wickets against Bangladesh A in the one four-day match.
"We may have won all seven of our international limited overs matches," commented coach Corrie van Zyl, "but as far as we are concerned this is a fresh start at 0-0. We can nevertheless draw confidence from the fact that we won all the matches in which there were tight finishes."
There will be at least two changes from the Castle Test XI that finished the last series in India when Mark Boucher was missing because of a back injury while Wayne Parnell misses the current series because of injury.
Smith is expected to continue his opening partnership with Alviro Petersen who made a century on his Test match debut at Eden Gardens which means that one of the middle-order batsmen will have to drop out.
There are two seam options to replace Parnell in Ryan McLaren and the uncapped Lonwabo Tsotsobe while the selectors could also consider playing Johan Botha as a second spinner.
The West Indies are missing their two senior strike bowlers, Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor, who are both injured and will miss their senior No. 3 batsman, Ramnaresh Sarwan, for the same reason.
They do, however, have Shivnarine Chanderpaul available again after he missed their last Test match in Australia.
Although they lost the series 2-0, the West Indies came within 36 runs of squaring the series in the final match at Perth.
Play starts at 16:00 (SA time)
Proteas: Graeme Smith (capt), Jacques Kallis (vice-capt), Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Ashwell Prince, JP Duminy, Mark Boucher, Dale Steyn, Paul Harris, Morne Morkel, Johan Botha, Ryan McLaren, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
West Indies: Chris Gayle (capt), Travis Dowlin, Darren Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Narsingh Deonarine, Brendan Nash, Dwayne Bravo, Dinesh Ramdin, Darren Sammy, Suleiman Benn, Shane Shillingford, Kemar Roach, Ravi Rampaul, Nelon Pascal.
Umpires: Steve Davis (Australia) and Asad Rauf (Pakistan)
TV umpire: Simon Taufel (Australia)
Match referee: Roshan Mahanama (Sri Lanka)