NOTTINGHAM – The ‘Faf Factor’ was missing at Lord’s, but here in Nottingham, it’s been in full bloom.
Cajoling, strategising and bringing comfort to a dressing-room that looked lost in London.
Mind you, as Chris Morris pointed out, had South African turned all the chances they created in the first Test into wickets, that match could have had a different outcome.
Nevertheless, the energy and intensity displayed by the Proteas players here is streets ahead of what was produced at Lord’s, and Du Plessis’ influence in that regard certainly can’t be ignored.
“Faf keeps it very simple, he speaks a good language with his bowlers – with anyone in his team, but particularly his bowlers, and it shows,” said Morris, who bowled two contrasting spells yesterday.
His improvement after lunch seemed to underscore just how well Du Plessis manages his bowlers.
In Morris’ first spell in the morning, he looked lost in the fury that was Joe Root’s counter-attack – bowling too short and wide.
Morris claimed that he’d tried to “put the ball there,” hoping overhead conditions would just help it swing – a trap, he called it, that a bowler sometimes falls into. “The message from Faf (at the lunch interval) was clear, be aggressive and bowl fast. That cleared any doubt of what I needed to do,” said Morris.
His lines and lengths were much better after the break, he dismissed the dangerous Moeen Ali as part of an excellently executed strategy.
The Proteas pushed the left-handed batsman back with a series of short balls, before the fuller delivery found his feet and weight stuck on the crease, a loose drive ensued and Du Plessis in the covers took a comfortable catch.
Morris followed that up with a fast full ball speared in at Stuart Broad’s leg-stump, a plan he said was conceived on the field.
The ‘Faf Factor’ in full effect once more.
“It’s his character, he lives for playing for the Proteas,” said Morris. “He puts his body on the line, doesn’t mind batting for three days to save a Test.
“A guy who leads from the front, a lot of guys will follow. He’s solid, quite clear with his plans... the plans worked for us today.”
The plans didn’t work so well at Lord’s, but Morris – who took 3/38 in 8.5 overs on Saturday – insisted it wasn’t because of the man who fulfilled the captaincy duties there.
“Dean’s a hard man, and that’s what South African cricketers want to be. Dean had very good plans, but a couple of catches go down, a couple get taken and it’s a different Test at Lord’s.
“Leadership wasn’t an issue, we always knew we had to play for each other with Faf missing, but he does add a good dynamic to the team.”
South Africa prayed on England’s attacking instincts on Saturday, but where Root’s amazing talent and skill saw him thrive in difficult conditions, the rest of the home team’s batsmen succumbed.
“There was just enough in the wicket to keep us bowlers excited, and with the overhead conditions, the ball swinging, you don’t mind guys coming at us.”
James Anderson, who claimed four wickets in 16 balls to dismiss the South African tail quickly in the morning, said the England bowlers would need to produce something special on Sunday to try and pull their side back into the match.
The Proteas went to the close 205 runs ahead as Elgar and Hashim Amla took the second-innings total to 75/1.
“We need to make inroads into their batting line-up, and then obviously bat out of our skins in the fourth innings.”
The highest successful fourth-innings total at this venue is England’s 284/6 in 2004 against New Zealand. Australia came within 14 runs of England’s target of 311 here four years. Those will all factor into South Africa’s thinking as ponder what to set the hosts.
What would be enough for the Proteas?
Morris didn’t know. “Whatever decision Faf takes, that he feels is possible for us to defend…”