Proteas / 10 January 2020, 10:30am / Ashfak Mohamed
You might have thought that after such a hard-fought match, where they nearly saved the Newlands Test, that the Proteas would be eager to get back into battle with England.
But captain Faf du Plessis feels that a few days off is just what his team need, with the series level at 1-1 following England’s 189-run victory in the second Test on Tuesday.
It was a dramatic final day as South Africa tried to salvage a draw, but they came up 8.2 overs short when Ben Stokes dismissed Vernon Philander with a terrific delivery that struck the batsman’s glove.
Now the teams move on to Port Elizabeth for the third Test, which begins on Thursday at St George’s Park, with plenty to ponder.
“It’s important, for us and England. These two Tests were very close to each other, so you do feel it. Test cricket is not easy - your head is engaged, your brain is active all the time. So, 10 days of rock-hard Test cricket, you do need a few days off, just to make sure that you get that energy back,” Du Plessis said.
“Over the next two or three days, we will just get away from each other a little bit, and fill the tanks with petrol again. Then go to PE and begin training, and look at the balance of the team - what would work the best there. And make sure that we work on the areas of the game where we are not yet where we should be.”
Opener Pieter Malan, with a patient 84 in the second innings, has done enough to be retained for the last two England Tests at least.
But Du Plessis and coach Mark Boucher will hope that the likes of Zubayr Hamza and Rassie van der Dussen show even more application than they did at Newlands.
Both right-handers showed some fight in the second innings, but ultimately gave their wickets away after occupying the crease for 104 (Hamza) and 194 (Van der Dussen) minutes respectively.
The skipper himself played a rash sweep shot on Tuesday, while Quinton de Kock also slapped a long-hop straight to midwicket.
But Du Plessis feels his team have taken a significant step forward with their batting. Despite being bowled out for just 223 in 89 overs in the first innings - where only Dean Elgar (88) and Van der Dussen (68) scored more than 20 runs - the fact that they lasted for 137.4 overs in the second knock gives Du Plessis some confidence for the rest of the series.
“There were some real good signs from a batting point of view in this Test match. Yes, there is still room for improvement, but I do feel we are improving,” he said.
“I have to look at it from a holistic point of view. We batted for a 130 overs on a day-five pitch. Yes, it was a good pitch, a little bit of spin on offer, a little bit of reverse on the final morning and late on the fourth night.
“For me, you are not going to have perfect batting conditions or performance every time when you play. Right now, we made one or two mistakes and know what those mistakes were. But that’s Test cricket - we survived pushing each other mentally, until one breaks.
“(On the final day), that happened when there were two soft wickets that we gave the opposition, but for the rest of the time, there was real fighting spirit out there.
“And you could see it from every batter that went out - it wasn’t about his own performance and scoring runs, it was about occupying the crease. From a team point of view, that’s a step in the right direction.”
The bowling unit will also need to work on their plans in the second innings, where England compiled 391/8 declared at Newlands, with Dom Sibley unbeaten on 133 and Stokes smashing 72 off 47 balls and playing two spinners in PE might be an option.