When is the ‘Faf Factor’ not a factor? When Faf says so.
“All I try and do is make sure the things I know that make a change in the team, I drill them very hard. It’s not a Faf factor. There are a few obvious things for me that I focus on and that generally brings the best out of the team and the players. I enjoy doing it. I think it brings the best out of me.”
There is no doubt the presence of their captain in this match had a significant impact on the South African players. It is very hard to believe it’s been less than a year since he first took on the job.
They missed his clever cajoling and tactical acumen at Lord’s.
Here he admitted he took on more responsibility in the absence of Russell Domingo. He made more demands of everyone in the squad; coaches, senior players and himself.
“The calmness around him and his leadership. It’s massive,” said man of the match Vernon Philander. “There’s no sense of panic when the team are backs against the wall. That’s what he brings to the party. It makes it so much easier. There’s a lot more responsibility on senior players, and the guys take it so well coming from him, being so relaxed.”
One moment perhaps sums up Du Plessis influence. When Joe Root went on the attack, on Saturday morning, it put the South Africans on the back foot, particularly the two support seamers, Chris Morris and Duanne Olivier. Morris had conceded 20 runs in just three overs releasing the pressure that Philander and Morne Morkel had worked so hard to build.
“Chris is new to Test cricket, the ball was moving all over the place and he got excited by how much it was swinging. There was a lot of thinking going on: ‘Okay I want to bowl inswing, outswing, I want to seam the ball. I want to keep the run rate down, not go for boundaries.’ So there was a lot of information going on in his head,” said Du Plessis.
“When he walked off the field (for lunch) I could see there was a lot of information going to him. I thought at the time it was important for him to clear his head completely. I could see his head was spinning. So I said just bowl as fast as you can, and after that hopefully your action will come through. Vern also said we should just trust him and give him an opportunity. He came through.
“The way Chris bowled after that was exceptional. His control surprised me. We know he is an x-factor bowler, so to see now that he has some consistency creeping in is huge for us. That adds to our x-factor as a team now that we have four very high quality seam bowlers. KG will be coming back the next Test and that makes the attack even stronger.”
The contrast between South Africa’s approach to batting and England’s was stark. The tourists were happy to absorb pressure and bat time, while England were far intent on playing aggressively, something that led to their downfall when South Africa applied even a modicum of pressure.
“We know England is a very good team when it comes to transferring pressure and coming out and playing shots. But if they are playing shots then as a captain I always feel there is an opportunity to take wickets,” said Du Plessis.
Root wants his batsmen to be more mindful of the match situation and will call on them to show greater care at The Oval in nine days time.
“Part of Test cricket is trying to find a balance of both and even if it’s not your strength, you build it into your natural game,” said the England captain.
“You have periods where you can absorb a bit of pressure and find the right moment to apply it when chances come along. I think we throughout this game have not done that very well at all. We are capable of doing it and have done it previously but this wasn’t a very good example of it.”