PORT ELIZABETH – Somehow, South Africa must start afresh. Having been dismantled in Durban by Australia and their reverse-swing maestro Mitchell Starc, been caught up in a sledging war which led to one of their own players disciplined, the hosts need to clear their heads for another cauldron today in Port Elizabeth.
South Africa’s east coast may be termed “The Friendly City”, but there will certainly be no pleasantries out in the middle during this second Test due to two teams having polar opposite views on how the gentleman’s game should be played.
Match referee Jeff Crowe has done his bit.
He has issued demerit points, handed out fines, and called the respective captains to a meeting in the hope that cricket will return to the back pages.
“It was nice to just have a chat and ensure that we’re playing within the spirit of the game and that cricket is what is written about and talked about after this game. It’s all been about the indiscretions of the last fixture and that’s not what we want for the game,” Australian captain Steve Smith told a packed media house at St George’s Park.
“Cricket has got to be the winner, so it’s just about staying in line, continuing to play good, hard cricket. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of banter out in the field. It’s just making sure we’re not getting personal or crossing any lines.”
Faf du Plessis has a similar stance on the issue, although he certainly differs with his Aussie counterpart on where that mythical line actually is.
“I have a lot of respect for every single team, and the style of play they come with, and what they believe the style they need to play with.
“When you play against a team like New Zealand, they are the nice guys, they're really friendly and they don’t believe they need to play like that, and they're obviously a team that gets results in the way they play,” Du Plessis said.
“We play a similar way. I don’t think as captain of the Proteas, we look to push that line. We don’t look to find the grey areas. For me it is very simple, we try to play a positive brand of cricket with very good body language, intensity of you look the guy in the eye, and you show them that you are here to play the game and you are here to compete and win a game of cricket. If you look in the past we are not a team that focuses on verbals. We just focus on making the cricket do the talking.
“As a captain, I don’t see much value in what you say on the field making an impact on the performance that you do have as a team. It is not our style of play. It is probably that Australia believes that’s the way they can be the best team they can be by being that sort of team,” Du Plessis added.
So, simply put, South Africa have to improve on executing the primary skills which make this game worth watching. Bowl better, field better, and most significantly, bat better.
Coach Ottis Gibson has already stressed that South Africa’s first innings failure was the cause of the Kingsmead defeat. There was some sort of redemption in the second innings when rookie Aiden Markram stroked a possible career-defining century, Theunis de Bruyn fought valiantly and 25-year-old Quinton de Kock rediscovered his maverick touch.
However, Du Plessis now believes the time has arrived for the likes of himself, Hashim Amla, Dean Elgar and AB de Villiers to lead from the front.
“It is very important. We are the first to always say that in a big series you need your big players to step up. There’s no doubt about the fact that big players didn’t perform in the first Test and that’s why Australia won it. It is as simple as that for me. It is not about relying on youngsters, you need everyone to step up in big games,” the skipper said.
“We need to make sure our cricket does the talking. We have spoken behind closed doors about lessons learnt. It is big for us, we need to make sure we get back in this series after going down 1-0.”