It’s felt like a bit of a roller-coaster ride for the Proteas since they finished off Sri Lanka and secured the series early on the fourth day in Cape Town. A helluva lot has happened in the week since and perhaps, in the circumstances, the extended team meeting here on Tuesday was understandable.
Faf du Plessis needed his players to take stock, reflect and then look forward with renewed motivation. Thus the call the past couple of days has been to “finish off the job” against Sri Lanka and assert their superiority over the opposition. “The focus shifts to the fact that you play a lot of international cricket and there’s a lot of tough times and you don’t get yourself into opportunities like this often,” Du Plessis said on Wednesday.
“We must make sure we win the series 3-0.”
If the Proteas do that, it will be only the fourth time that South Africa have swept a series (of three or more matches). Most famously it was achieved against Australia in 1970, then against the West Indies in 1998/99 and most recently against Pakistan in 2012/13.
Du Plessis acknowledged that the string of tales concerning Kolpak exits has been a major distraction around the squad in the past few days. “The Australia series is an example; once again we’ve played amazing cricket, we’re 2-0 up, dominating a team and there’s other stuff taking the shine off the performances,” Du Plessis said referencing the drama that surrounded him in the build-up to the final Test in Adelaide when he faced a hearing about shining the ball with a sweet in his mouth. “That is draining. You don’t want that. We must focus on this Test and see which guys will lead our attack for the next five years.”
In that regard Du Plessis explained that he and coach Russell Domingo faced an interesting chat about whether to keep the make-up of the South African attack the same - three seamers and a front-line spinner - or take an all-seam attack into the match on what is expected to be a typically fast and bouncy Wanderers track.
“We’ll see what the weather looks like - there is rain forecast for the Test.”
That fourth seamer spot would mean a debut cap for Duanne Olivier of the Knights, while Wayne Parnell, who Du Plessis confirmed will play, is likely to take the new ball. Olivier certainly caught his skipper’s eye at training this week. “It’s the first time I’ve seen him bowl there’s something there, I really like what I see. I also like a guy coming to the nets for the first time and picking up an old ball and bowling with it,” Du Plessis enthused.
Despite his side’s dominance, Du Plessis continued to show the Sri Lankans respect, saying only that they had not adjusted as well to conditions as they’d have wanted to during the series. It was a sentiment his opposite number shared. “We haven’t played our best cricket in the first couple of Tests and the boys know that,” said Angelo Mathews.
South Africa (from): Stephen Cook, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis (capt), Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Wayne Parnell, Duanne Olivier, Keshav Maharaj, Theunis de Bruyn.
Sri Lanka (from): Dimuth Karunaratne, Kaushal Silva, Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Angelo Mathews (capt), Dinesh Chandimal, Upul Tharanga, Rangana Herath, Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara, Nuwan Pradeep, Dushmantha Chameera, Vikum Sanjaya, Dilruwan Perera.
Umpires: Standing - Rod Tucker (Aus), Bruce Oxenford (NZ). TV - Aleem Dar
Match Referee: David Boon (Aus)
Coverage: TV - SS2 and SABC3 (from 9.30am)
Radio - Radio 2000