CAPE TOWN - Proteas captain Faf du Plessis has re-opened the toss debate, with the recently-turned 34-year-old suggesting it needed to be scrapped altogether.
Du Plessis was quick to point out that his view had nothing to do with the Galle pitch, which saw his team crash to a 278-run defeat within two-and-half days in the first Test, saying: “I thought it was actually a decent Test wicket. It’s obviously a lot more challenging to face spin. But there weren’t any demons in the wicket at any stage while we were playing.”
Instead, Du Plessis, who is one of the more prominent captains in the global game, having led a World XI in Pakistan last year, is more concerned about the product Test cricket is serving up at the moment. The ratio of teams winning Test series away from home is diminishing all the time, with even the Proteas - once the “Road Warriors” after virtually enjoying a decade without an away series defeat - becoming susceptible to conditions abroad.
The Proteas surrendered their proud record on the Bunsen burners of India in 2015 before also succumbing in England last year. After Saturday’s mauling, they are on the brink of a third series defeat abroad in three years. In contrast, after years of mediocre performances in home series - even when in possession of the famed ICC World No 1 golden Test mace - South Africa have transformed the republic into a fortress with series wins over powerhouses like India and Australia recently.
In fact, the 3-1 triumph over the Baggy Greens had historical significance for it was the first time the Proteas had achieved this feat before its new rainbow nation audience. Ironically, all of this home success has come under Du Plessis’s leadership, who has been frank about his desire to maximise familiar seam bowling conditions through consultation with local curators in the build-up to any major series.
“I think even in South Africa you’ll still prepare the conditions the way you prepare them now, but you just make sure that you bring some balance. In home conditions teams will still win the majority of the games, but you do it to even it out a little. I think over the last two or three years away-records have definitely gone down, and games are finishing a lot sooner than they used to,” Du Plessis said.
"I’m a big fan of taking away the toss. When I started playing Test cricket, 400s and 500s were happening quite regularly. So I’m not just speaking about subcontinent conditions. In South Africa games hardly reach the end of day four anymore. I think that’s one of the ways you can make sure that balance is a little better.”
South Africa’s opportunity of achieving the rare distinction of winning consecutive away series in Sri Lanka may already have floated into the Indian Ocean, but they will at least be able to salvage some sort of pride should they manage to turn it all around in Colombo. This is undoubtedly a monumental challenge that awaits the Proteas in the island’s capital, which has left Du Plessis, coach Ottis Gibson and selection convenor Linda Zondi to mull over both team composition and strategy for the next couple of days.
“If you play six batters on pitches that are not flat - whether it be green or spinning - it puts a lot of pressure on your top six to score the runs,” the skipper explained. “Especially after a game where we haven’t scored the runs, that is something we as a brainstrust need to think about - what’s the best way we can counter their strengths?
"It’s (also) a case of our batters somehow trying to put pressure back on the quality of spin bowling Sri Lanka have. There’s two ways of looking at it. You could sit it out and try and bat for as long as possible, but you also need to put pressure on the opposition. We’ll have those conversations.”