South Africa’s ICC World Twenty20 preparations get under way with a three-match series against Australia starting today here at St George’s Park.
It is also the launch of Faf du Plessis’s audition for the job of Test captain and the beginning of a new era for the Proteas.
AB de Villiers may be the preferred candidate and Shaun Pollock, Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher’s “natural choice” to succeed the retired Graeme Smith as South Africa’s Test skipper, but Du Plessis does boast the credentials to stake a claim for an enhanced leadership role within the Proteas set-up.
He had already lightened De Villiers’ load by taking over the T20 captaincy, he thrives on the extra responsibility, both on and off the field, and has shown the character to stand up in the most pressurised of environments.
Although the demands of the two formats are significantly different, Du Plessis has proved he has the ability to galvanise and inspire players to greater heights, noticeably by the fact that the Proteas T20 side have risen to the No3 ranking on the ICC table after consecutive away series wins against subcontinent giants Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Du Plessis was loathe to talk up his leadership ambitions yesterday, only saying he was “quite excited” to be heading to his first ICC tournament later this month in Bangladesh as captain. Instead, he preferred to focus on getting his team match-ready and sharpening their short-format skills after just a three-day turnaround from the Tests.
Unlike Australia who have revamped their T20 squad with three members remaining from their victorious Test unit, the Proteas boast as many as nine players, including Du Plessis, who left Newlands dejectedly last Wednesday.
“It is a quick turnaround – opposite to what we were trying to achieve at Newlands. I was just blocking the ball as soft as I could,” Du Plessis said yesterday.
“But we’ve had a good few days in the bush to regroup, relax and catch up with some of the other guys who have come into the squad. We had Ashwin Willemse, who has been part of a Rugby World Cup-winning squad, come in and chat to us about his experiences, so we draw lots of inspiration from that. But in terms of actual skills, we’ll be switching straight back into T20 mode and working hard on getting our skills to where we want it to be.”
Du Plessis is unlikely to have his pace spearhead Dale Steyn at his disposal for this T20 series, but would at least have left training yesterday with a bigger smile than when he arrived as left-arm pace duo Beuran Hendricks and Wayne Parnell passed their fitness tests.
The pair could be involved in a straight shoot-out for one of the remaining pace bowling slots alongside Morné Morkel and another left-armer Lonwabo Tsotsobe, although it is well known that Proteas coach Russell Domingo is keen to see how the uncapped Hendricks adapts to the pressure-filled environment of international cricket ahead of the World T20.
Should Hendricks be handed a debut, he will have the unenviable task of bowling to Australia’s fearsome opening pair of David Warner and Aaron Finch.
Warner was in superb form during the recent Tests, claiming the Man of the Series award after scoring 543 runs at an average of 90.00. His strike-rate was an impressive 86.74 and the powerful left-hander will look to improve his figures at the small St George’s Park ground.
“There is a good feeling around the camp (after Australia’s Test series win) – a good energy. There’s been a good energy around this team for a while now, regardless of what happens with the Test team. And we want to build on that in this series going forward to the World T20,” Australia’s T20 captain George Bailey said yesterday.
Faf du Plessis (capt), Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Beuran Hendricks, Imran Tahir, David Miller, Albie Morkel, Morné Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Aaron Phangiso, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Kyle Abbott
George Bailey (capt), Dan Christian, Nathan Coulter-Nile, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Brad Haddin, Brad Hodge Brad Hogg, Glenn Maxwell, James Muirhead, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, David Warner, Shane Watson, Cameron White - Sunday Independent