PORT ELIZABETH - With Proteas captain Faf du Plessis rallying his senior players to embrace their responsibility in the second Test at St George’s Park, Steve Smith claims Australia are ready to counter star batsman AB de Villiers.
The former skipper was the sole South African batsman who negotiated the skill and ferocity of Australia’s chief destroyer Mitchell Starc in the Proteas’ first innings last week in Durban. De Villiers stroked a sparkling undefeated 71 out of a dismal 162.
However, De Villiers was run out for a duck in the second innings with South Africa in pursuit of 417 for victory, which ultimately played a big part in the home team losing the first Test by 118 runs.
The Aussies, though, don’t expect such a neatly-wrapped gift again and are preparing accordingly.
"I thought he played beautifully last week for his 70-odd," Smith told reporters in Port Elizabeth.
"He's got good plans. I think for us it's just about ensuring that we're challenging his defence as much as we can, being nice and disciplined and trying to get him pretty quiet.
"Make him work hard for his runs and on this wicket probably the shortest way home is going to be at the stumps, with not much bounce and not much pace.
"Targeting the stumps and straight fields, make him work hard for his runs."
Equally, Smith and his charges are gearing up for another almighty challenge this week. Even discounting the build-up which has centred on the stairwell fracas between David Warner and Quinton de Kock that saw both players charged and fined by the International Cricket Council, the Aussie skipper is bracing himself for an almighty fightback by the Proteas.
It was here in Port Elizabeth where the Proteas hit back venomously on Australia’s last tour of the Republic in 2014. The situation was similar with the visitors decimating the Proteas in the first Test at Centurion – ironically through another left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Johnson – before the Proteas levelled the series at the country’s oldest stadium.
South Africa’s pace spearhead Dale Steyn may not be here this time around as he is still in the process of working himself back to fitness, but Smith doesn’t expect any less of a challenge from the Proteas.
"I pulled the guys together this morning, just the playing group and said 'let's not let these incidents overshadow the way we played and get in the way of the way we want to play in this series'," Smith said.
"It's about continuing to play a good, hard aggressive brand but knowing we don't want to cross the line, we want to stay within the spirit of the game and let cricket be the main thing on show. No doubt they’ll (South Africa) come back hard in this one. They’re a very good side and they’re probably hurting after losing the first match.”
With Warner having escaped a suspension by one demerit point, Australia have named an unchanged line-up for this second Test at St George’s Park.