JOHANNESBURG – The Proteas hope to assert themselves better in the remainder of the one-day international series with Pakistan, putting aside individual concerns the players may have about World Cup selection.
South African captain Faf du Plessis acknowledged yesterday that he could sense tension among many of his players, which was inhibiting their play and the style the Proteas wish to employ in the 50-over format.
“The thing (Ottis Gibson) and I are looking for, is for the players to be free, to take a game on in the way that we think we need to play to be contenders to win a World Cup. If you are a little bit pensive and tentative that is something we want to address, because that is not the way we want to play,” said Du Plessis.
With so much chopping and changing of the squad - more than Du Plessis or Gibson wanted for this period before the World Cup - there have been a lot of nerves around the squad as players are desperate to take every opportunity to try and impress the selectors. That however has created a dangerously stressful environment where individuals have struggled to impose themselves.
“It’s normal to have nerves, normal to think about selection... but the communication from me and the coaches is to take all that noise and park it and make sure you focus on the style we want to play as a team,” Du Plessis said.
“And then we want to see how players deal with it; can they put what they are going through mentally aside and just focus on the job? Some of the players have stepped up big time, and you can see one or two still need to get more free in that sense and that is something you will see in the next three games.”
Among those who look like they are adopting that free approach is Rassie van der Dussen. He is helped by the fact that he has been in form for the last two seasons domestically for the Highveld Lions and is thus comfortable with his own game.
He made an excellent 93, at a strike rate of 92, on debut in Port Elizabeth last Saturday and in the second ODI in Durban on Tuesday he marshalled SA home, scoring 80 not out after they had slumped to 80/5 in pursuit of 204.
On the flip side, Reeza Hendricks has struggled since his magnificent century on debut against Sri Lanka last July. In 10 innings after that 102 in Pallakelle, Hendricks has gone passed 50 just once - against Zimbabwe last October - and has struggled to assert himself. His strike rate of 75.96, suggests a player capable of taking the game by the scruff of the neck, but who has failed to do so since his first match.
Van der Dussen’s immediate success - and how comfortable he has looked - has added to the selectors’ options, but complicated matters also as far as the World Cup squad is concerned.
“What I like is that he is very versatile, he can bat anywhere and if an injury happened he can be moved around the batting order very easily,” said Du Plessis. “He’s done very well and made life tough for the rest of the players as well.”
Amidst all the World Cup chatter, there is of course a ODI series to be won.
It is worth recalling that Du Plessis, Gibson and the Proteas sacrificed a series last summer against India as they sought to provide opportunities to players and assess the best personnel and combinations for the World Cup. Usually at around this period ahead of such a tournament, it’s imperative to build confidence as well, which in the Proteas’ case over the next week, means winning this series.
“We’ve been rusty in both batting and bowling, we’ve not produced a performance even close to what we produced in Australia - in the last game of that series (last November) we were very good,” said the SA captain.
In that deciding match of the series in Hobart, SA scored 320/5 with Du Plessis and David Miller making big hundreds, to beat Australia by 40 runs.
That kind of batting is yet to be seen against this Pakistan attack. On the quicker Highveld tracks, that will be a key goal for the hosts to achieve.@shockerhess