MANCHESTER – Faf du Plessis has told the public to forget about AB de Villiers playing Test cricket again, and to support Temba Bavuma as South Africa’s long-term No 4 batsman.
With the Proteas’ batting failing dismally throughout the series, the order changing constantly, eyes were naturally – and longingly – cast in the direction of frequently tweeting De Villiers, who would appear to be one of the biggest missing pieces, along with the an opener, in the South African batting unit.
“I would love AB to play,” said Du Plessis. “We all know how good he is and we missed him, but we’ve spent too much time talking about when he is going to come back.
“The hope of him coming back is something we need to move past, we need to find someone else who will fulfil that role. If AB comes back, it’s a huge bonus, but I don’t expect him to come back into the Test team.”
South Africa used three different batsmen in that critical No 4 spot in the series – JP Duminy started and failed there at Lord’s, Quinton de Kock played one good innings, and Temba Bavuma looked solid but wasn’t able to apply pressure back on to England’s bowlers quickly enough at Old Trafford.
“We didn’t come here planning for JP to be dropped – we were hoping that he could bowl and play those X-factor innings,” said Du Plessis.
Duminy had been moved into the No 4 spot a year ago, when Du Plessis first took over as captain, which was a surprise.
But it was hoped the extra responsibility would allow him to express himself. Duminy flattered to deceive, making two centuries, but he averaged just 34 in that period and there was far too much mediocrity for a player of his ability, and eventually the selectors’ patience ran out.
“The change with Quinton going in at four was to transfer pressure back on the England team – he is the one guy who can do that. He did that in the second Test match, playing a match-changing innings on a green top.”
England’s plans to De Kock improved thereafter – their bowlers tightened their lines to him, and any movement they found proved too disconcerting for De Kock to deal with.
“In conditions like this with the ball moving around, I think it’s better for Quinton to come in at six or seven like your Bairstows, Stokes’ and Alis.”
Which led the selectors to Bavuma at No 4. “Temba is probably technically our best player, along with Hashim and myself,” said Du Plessis.
The South African captain has also been impressed by more than just the 27-year-old’s technique.
“I love what I see in Temba’s character and he’s going to be an important leader for us in the team. I’m a big believer that, if you see that in somebody, you give them responsibility to bring the best out in them.
“When he batted at four, he was our best player in really challenging conditions, and that showed me that he has the capability of being South Africa’s number four for a long time.”
While chastened by the experience of facing arguably the best new-ball pair on the Test circuit at the moment, Du Plessis remains hopeful that South Africa’s batsmen will learn lessons from their time in England.
“The learning for the batting unit will be important – we know there are holes we need to fix. Heino (Kuhn) didn’t do as well as he would have liked. He’s a quality player, so we’ll have to look at that and, from a balance point of view, six or seven batsmen is always the question for us.”