Proteas captain Faf du Plessis believes his team are operating at only 80 per cent of capacity, and that they could have lost the first Test against Sri Lanka.
It was the efforts of the bowlers which brought about the 117-run win at St George’s Park.
‘Our bowlers are doing really well, but as a batting unit, we can definitely improve,’ he said. ‘We have got players making good starts, but we need one or two of them to kick on to a hundred to produce the perfect performance.’
The four-prong attack of three seamers and the spin of Keshav Maharaj has been really successful, but the captain admits it is a bit of a gamble. ‘Obviously we need them to hit their lines and length, and of course we would be in trouble if one of them breaks down. But at the moment they are in good form.’
Nonetheless, Du Plessis asserted that the win was not a given, even with a record winning target of 488.
He gives credit for that to the St George’s groundsman, Adrian Carter, who, he said, provided the ideal wicket to reduce the threat of Sri Lanka’s dangerous left-arm spinner Rangana Herath.
‘The groundsman got it spot on,’ Du Plessis said. ‘We asked him for a wicket that didn’t spin right through the innings, one that moved around on the first innings and didn’t spin on day four and five. So it’s great wicket that he prepared.’
That was perhaps not as designed as it seemed. Carter was forced to leave a covering of grass in an effort to hold the wicket together in the hot, dry conditions. That had the effect of taking out reverse swing as the ball did not deteriorate as much as it would have done.
‘As a batting unit, we are not scared of batting on a green top, so we will choose going on something that looked a bit greener than something that look a bit more brown,’ Du Plessis added. The bowlers responded magnificently to the extra work load as the wicket became flatter.
He set attacking fields, asked his bowlers to put in long spells and remain accurate while also knowing the target was chaseable so they could not let it slip. The role of left-arm spinner Maharaj was important as it allowed Kyle Abbott, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rababa to rotate.
‘They had a few soft wickets and if they didn’t do that and batters had put their hands up, they could have chased this score down,’ Du Plessis said. ‘But Vernon, Kyle and KG are doing an amazing job. For Kyle to step into Dale’s shoes and do as well as Dale has done for this team is amazing. Every time he plays a game he is incredibly consistent. Even though KG wasn’t as quick as he would like – you are not going to always be on song – Vernon put his hand up as he always does on a green top.’
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