CAPE TOWN – South African captain Faf du Plessis said on Thursday that the pitch for the first Test against India, starting at Newlands on Friday, looked ideal for his team.
“The groundsman has done a fantastic job,” said Du Plessis. “It's been very, very hot but it looks like it's going to be a good cricket wicket, nothing too extreme but it looks like it's going to be exactly what we wanted.”
After several days of hot weather the match pitch had a mottled appearance. It looked less green than it was when the South Africans assembled on Tuesday but there was still a good covering of grass.
The ideal pitch, according to Du Plessis, is one that offers pace, bounce and some seam movement.
“You don't want excessive movement that brings both bowling attacks into the game. We feel that our seam resources on a wicket that offers a bit of pace and bounce can exploit some areas in their batting line-up,” he said.
For the first time in more than a year, South Africa have all their key bowlers fit, while the returning AB de Villiers needs to be slotted into what has been a settled batting middle order.
“There are so many combinations,” said Du Plessis. “It is the hardest team selection I've been involved in. We have so many different options, we can almost pick different teams for different venues.”
Although coach Ottis Gibson indicated earlier in the week that it was unlikely Dale Steyn would be part of the fast bowling line-up after a long injury break, Du Plessis said the former world number one bowler had lost none of his skill.
“Dale for me is the best bowler in the world,” said Du Plessis. “He hasn't played for a while. He hasn't got the overs under his legs that he would have wanted but facing Dale in the nets it feels like he's got the same pace, the same swing.”
Du Plessis admitted that South Africa had produced some disappointing results in the past two years, notably away to India and at home to England in 2015/16 and in England in 2017, but said conditions, particularly in India, and injuries has been a factor.
He said he looked forward to his team challenging for the number one Test ranking, currently held by India.
“The next two or three years are going to be very exciting for South African cricket. We can push very hard to not only get to number one but to stay there for quite a bit.”
Indian batting coach Sanjay Bangar said India were confident after preparing well since their arrival in South Africa last week.
He said India's fast bowlers were ready to step up after largely providing a supporting role to the spinners during India's successful run of Test matches in India.
“They have bowled with consistency and discipline and I am pretty sure that discipline will help us maintain pressure on the batsmen,” said Bangar.
Bangar said Shikhar Dhawan had recovered from a minor ankle injury and was available for selection but left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja was still under observation after suffering from a viral illness.