PRETORIA – Faf du Plessis, looked and sounded like a happy man once again.
“It’s been a tough season for the Test team. It’s been a while since our last victory,” he said after South Africa had beaten England by 107 runs in the first Test of the four-match series here on Monday.
“We were good in all departments in this Test. Especially in the last two days when the wicket got a little bit flatter, the guys showed remarkable skill, they were consistent...it’s a good start and that is what we needed as a Test team to get our confidence back.”
South Africa had lost its previous five Tests, confidence was at a low ebb, and there were major distractions off the field. To get a win like this, albeit against an England team that was hit hard by a flu-bug, is a win the players will treasure.
In particular Du Plessis was impressed by his bowlers who out-performed the English in this Test in conditions that were very helpful for seamers. It is a series that has been billed as a battle between the two attacks, and in this first Test, South Africa’s bowlers were better than England’s.
“The bowling was exceptional in this Test,” said Du Plessis.
Even in the final session on Sunday, when South Africa picked up just one wicket, they never allowed England to get away in terms of the run rate. In Monday’s first session England scored just 50 runs in 25 overs, for the loss of two wickets.
That kind of pressure forced England to change tact, and after lunch Joe Root and Ben Stokes upped the tempo. Then Stokes got out, crucially before the second new ball was available and South Africa sailed towards victory.
“The bowling unit was exceptional, they all put their hand up to make contributions. In the last two days, the wicket played at is best, and it needed us to be really on top of our game, collectively our bowlers were really on top of their game,” said Du Plessis. Beside’s Quinton de Kock’s man of the match performance with both bat and gloves, it was the performance from Anrich Nortje, in his third match that really caught the eye.
“His control impressed me. We know he has pace and bounce, but the control he bowled with for large periods of his spell is really pleasing for us. We need one or two bowlers to put their hands up with Vern going away. We need a fast bowling group that we can rely on.”
Besides his five wickets in the match, there was his innings of 40 as nightwatchman in South Africa’s second innings that proved crucial. “The coaching staff has worked hard on making sure the lower order contributes; not being scared of the pace and getting into good positions, because a lot of times Test matches are won and lost there, and here there was a great example; Anrich and Rassies’s partnership was worth 91 runs and we won by 100 runs,” said Du Plessis.
Root said he didn’t want to use the illness that has affected the England camp as an excuse. “Fourteen of our squad has taken ill in the last week and a half. Ben had to deal with that terrible thing with his father and his own illness. A lot has been thrown at us over the last week, and we have tried to manage it as best we can.
“Hopefully the crux of the illness is through the camp now and we can be fighting fit for Cape Town and bounce back from this.”
As for where the match was won and lost, Root said he didn’t need to look far. “First innings with bat and ball,” said the England captain. “We had them in a position where we had them 111/5 and we were looking to bowl them out for 180-200. It got away from us more than it should have. We gave too many boundary balls and allowed Quinton de Kock to play in the way that he likes to play.”
And then with the bat we lost five wickets very cheaply, which was disappointing.”