LONDON - Faf du Plessis’s sunny disposition at the weekend stood out from the doom that had enveloped the South African squad that must try and tie up the Test series against England starting this Friday at Trent Bridge.
It’s a group of not so merry men who head to Nottingham Tuesday to start preparing for the second Test. Sunday’s capitulation in just two and a half hours at Lord’s must be cast from the memory banks.
“It’s really important that we don’t have that mental hangover given the tour we’ve had so far,” Du Plessis said. “That’s one of my, along with the senior players’, most important jobs. We must focus ourselves on the next Test.”
It’s been a tough tour for everyone. There have been personal matters away from training and playing that have demanded attention.
From a cricket perspective, injuries, a suspension for one of the team’s young stars and the lack of form among many of the batsmen has left the side in a quandary.
Du Plessis will demand a greater focus and intensity at training as they seek to eliminate the errors which cost them so dearly in the first Test. ‘Practise how you expect to play,’ will be the mantra, so no no-balls and greater levels of concentration during the fielding drills, something which was absent ahead of the Lord’s match.
“It’s an easy fix, it’s about our intensity in training,” Du Plessis remarked. “Generally we are a very good fielding unit, especially in Test cricket in the last year, we’ve had some amazing catches, and great fielding performances so I won’t judge us on one performance.”
Those areas may be an easy fix, but the batting won’t be. South Africa is trying to bed in another new opening partner for Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla’s form is shaky, JP Duminy is on the way out and Theunis de Bruyn’s only played two Tests.
Du Plessis has demanded more from those who have shown good form recently. “Temba (Bavuma) once again is being consistent, but something Temba needs to work on is to convert those scores after those starts. He’s playing brilliantly but he knows that 50s don’t win us matches. All our batters are in the same boat. If you look at one of the differences (in the first Test), it’s that one guy scored 180 and that changes the outcome of the game.”
With regards the bowling, Du Plessis will want to assess conditions at Nottingham before making a decision about who will replace the suspended Kagiso Rabada.
The South Africans will have noted the statistics of England’s two attack spearheads Stuart Broad and James Anderson, who both enjoy bowling at Trent Bridge. Anderson’s picked up 53 wickets there at an average of 19.24 while Broad, who plays for Nottinghamshire, has claimed 34 wickets there in seven Tests at 18.58
Du Plessis said consideration will be given to playing four seamers, which could mean using just six batsmen. In that case Duanne Olivier and Chris Morris would be considered, with De Bruyn then likely to sit out. It’s a risky move given South Africa’s batting troubles.
Meanwhile Du Plessis spoke out in support of Rabada saying he would not expect an apology from the young fast bowler and that he doesn’t want him to lose his fiery edge.
Rabada shouted “f*ck you” when he dismissed Ben Stokes in England’s first innings, but Du Plessis did not believe the expletive was directed at the England all-rounder.
“It wasn’t anything to do with Ben, (Rabada) didn’t have the rhythm he wanted, it was just frustration coming through. I’ve played with Ben I can tell you he’s just as fiery but that’s what makes him so competitive and so skillful.
I called him the dragon in the IPL because he breathes fire when he gets angry. That’s important, it’s important to have characters like that. KG must not lose that for one second.”
The mother of national coach Russell Domingo died on Sunday night following a car accident two weeks ago. Domingo left London Sunday after the first Test. It’s not known when or if he’ll re-join the squad.