Faf du Plessis’ worth as a Test captain was amplified as South Africa showed character at Trent Bridge, writes GARY LEMKE.
It has been a difficult week for the Proteas after a car crash of a display at Lord’s in the first Test. Rightly criticised for a limp performance that saw them surrender the first Test, and the return home of coach Russell Domingo, who lost his mother, it also saw Du Plessis back with the squad after the birth of his first child.
And you can see the influence Du Plessis has on this team. He’s a leader, a strong character and for a final time we must just wonder what might have been had he been made captain ahead of AB de Villiers for the Champions Trophy.
Du Plessis won the toss on the first day at Trent Bridge and bravely made the decision to bat first. The ball was expected to move around in seamer-friendly conditions and his England counterpart Joe Root reckoned that had the coin fallen his way, he would have elected to bowl first.
So, at the end of the day, South Africa’s 309-6 was a fine effort. Root can’t be happy with getting his way and seeing the Proteas bat first and making the total they did. Du Plessis will be delighted.
It was a significant day. Firstly, Du Plessis is the best captain in cricket at the moment in any form of the game — and Cricket SA should recognise that, by giving him the ODI duties as well going into the 2019 World Cup.
Secondly, JP Duminy has surely played his last Test. After 46 matches and an average of 32.85 he was dropped from the starting XI and Quinton de Kock was promoted from No 7 to No 4 in the order.
It proved to be a masterstroke with the ridiculously talented wicketkeeper-batsman making an 81-ball 68 as he and a rejuvenated Hashim Amla (78) put on 113 runs for the third wicket.
De Kock played his shots, as he always does, and he helped accelerate the run rate, which also allowed Amla to play his normal game and not worry about the scoreboard slowing.
But, I wouldn’t want to nail De Kock down to No 4 for the rest of his bright career right now. In a Proteas batting line-up that can still look brittle – obviously, at 309-6 many will argue that’s not the case, but Test cricket is a funny old game – I wouldn’t want to expose De Kock to the red-ball bowlers if the score was 25-2, for instance.
On the first day he came in at the fall of Heino Kuhn’s wicket in the 28th over, but if and when two wickets are down inside the first 10 overs, I’d rather see Du Plessis walking to the crease and having De Kock at No 5. It’s a case of taking each situation on its merit and being flexible, but he mustn’t bat as low as No 7 again.
Kuhn must also be applauded for his role as he gutsed his way to 34 off 87 balls and was pinged on the hand and the back of the head along the way. He played the old-fashioned opener’s role in seeing off Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad’s initial stints, and his selection ahead of Aiden Markram has been vindicated.
Much will also have been said by the unbroken seventh-wicket partnership of Vernon Philander and Chris Morris, who came together when Temba Bavuma departed with the score on 235. The two all-rounders fed off the belief that Du Plessis’ return has brought to the side and put the Proteas ahead on points after day one when a lot of people expected it to be England making the running.
The return for the third Test of Kagiso Rabada will probably now see a straight swap with Duanne Olivier and then that should be the starting XI for the remaining two Tests.
Overall, what a difference a week can make, but also, what a difference Faf du Plessis can make to a team environment.
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