Du Plessis aims to pile pressure on under-fire England

The South Africa captain says the “situation” facing England is similar to that confronted by Australia during South Africa’s visit last year.

Faf du Plessis at a training session at The Oval on Wednesday.   -  AP


South Africa captain Faf du Plessis believes his side could be on the verge of another impressive away series win if it maintains its recent form against England.

The Proteas head into Thursday’s third Test at The Oval all square at 1-1 in a four-match series following a thumping 340-run win in the second Test at Trent Bridge last week.

South Africa has a proud away Test record. In its past 19 series it has won 13, drawn five and lost just one - in India in 2015-16. Its record under du Plessis is excellent, with just one defeat in 12 Tests when the 33-year-old batsman has been its captain. Du Plessis’s successes as a Test skipper include the Proteas’ 2-1 series win in Australia in 2016-17, with the host’s lone win coming when South Africa was already 2-0 up.

Preview: SA raring to take series lead with full-strength attack

“The situation felt very similar,” du Plessis told reporters at The Oval on Wednesday ahead of what will be the 100th Test staged on the south London ground. Last week’s defeat saw England subjected to some scathing media criticism, particularly from several of its own former captains, and du Plessis said it had been a similar story when South Africa was in Australia.

‘Free for all’

“There was quite a bit of press against the Australian cricket team, and then we stepped our game up even more in the second Test,” he recalled. “Then after that, it was a free-for-all - and you could see the Australian team was feeling a bit of pressure.”

Du Plessis wants his side, bolstered by the return of fast bowler Kagiso Rabada - banned from the second Test at Trent Bridge after swearing at Ben Stokes during England’s win in the series opener at Lord’s - to turn the screw even further at The Oval. “I see it as a nice thing for us to be in as the opposition. All teams don’t want to feel the pressure, and you do feel the pressure when you don’t play your best cricket - that’s part of the game.”

As for Rabada, du Plessis said: “I assume he’ll be raring to get that ball in his hand.”

England will field at least two debutants on Thursday in Essex batsman Tom Westley and Middlesex fast-medium bowler Toby Roland-Jones. Westley made a century for the second-string England Lions against South Africa at Worcester a few weeks ago - a match where both du Plessis and key paceman Vernon Philander were absent.

“Well done to him for getting a hundred, but I can promise you the intensity of a warm-up game versus a Test match... he will play against a different attack tomorrow,” said du Plessis of the challenge awaiting England’s new No 3.

‘Real darkness’

Du Plessis has won plaudits for his clear-sighted leadership since taking charge during the 2016 home series against New Zealand, with South Africa then having slid down the Test rankings. But now it is second in the standings, with only India above it.

In his time as skipper, du Plessis has addressed contentious issues such as racial transformation head on, with the team’s run of Test success the best answer to critics of the policy. “When I took over it was at a time of real darkness as a Test team,” du Plessis recalled. “I had a vision of where I wanted us to go and a blueprint for getting there. But getting there doesn’t always happen - you have to be patient. Luckily things worked out a lot quicker than I thought they would. We won every series that we played in, and it was a good year for the team and my captaincy. As a young captain it’s important to find your own style of captaincy. If you know you have the right people on board and the right processes hopefully the results will come.”

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