Faf du Plessis has 'learnt his lessons' from the 2015 India tour

As South Africa takes on India in the first Test from Wednesday, skipper Faf du Plessis is excited to feature in the World Test Championships.

The South African cricketers during a practice session in Visakhapatnam on Tuesday.   -  K. R. Deepak

“You either disappear or come back stronger.”

That was South Africa Test captain Faf du Plessis’ response when quizzed about the lessons learnt from Proteas’ last tour here in 2015. Du Plessis, yet to be named skipper then, averaged less than nine in a series which saw South Africa’s batsmen tormented by spin. No batsman from the visiting camp, except A.B. de Villiers, could manage more than 150 runs across four Tests.

“Last time we came here, we found it really difficult as a batting unit and I personally took time to adapt to the conditions. I have had to work on my defensive technique and my record, since then, is a lot better against spin, be it in limited-overs or Test cricket,” du Plessis said on Tuesday.

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“All players go through a lean phase, it makes them understand the potential weaknesses in their game. So yeah, as tough as it was it taught me a lot about myself.”

The South Africa team in transition may appear unlikely to offer a stern challenge to the world's No. 1 Test team in its own backyard, but considering the contest, a foregone conclusion would be unwise. South Africa, in fact, is trying to rebuild from the lowest moment of a tumultuous nine months which began with a 2-0 Test defeat to Sri Lanka at home and culminated with the country's worst-ever World Cup campaign. The seemingly fearsome pace attack lacked sting and the fielding, once the side’s unwavering pride, let it down at crucial stages in the competition.

Faf du Plessis: Looking forward to a new challenge.   -  K.R. Deepak

 

So cascading were the impacts of the spectacular failure that it compelled Cricket South Africa to revamp the way the senior men’s team was run. Under the recent restructuring programme, Enoch Nkwe, title-winning Highveld Lions and Jozi Stars head coach, was named as South Africa's interim team director for the tour of India. Du Plessis termed Nkwe’s appointment ‘refreshing’.

“It is exciting to have him in the dressing room. He brings a different kind of mindset to the team, the kind of chat we are not used to. Although his time with us has been really short, we have had some good conversations.”

On a day when India announced its XI with two seamers and two spinners, the South African skipper did not rule out playing five bowlers on a Vizag pitch that is expected to play low, with forecast for showers bringing moisture into play as well.

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“Five bowlers is certainly something that we will be looking into... it maximises your chances of picking 20 wickets and that's how you win Tests mostly. In India, their spinners play a huge role but they have now strengthened their seam attack in order to be equally effective while playing overseas.

“Reverse swing could come into play depending on the conditions. The surface has to be dry and the ball has to be scuffed up for it to reverse. There has been a lot of rain around but yeah if the conditions are right for reverse swing, then we could use it to our advantage.”

While India began its campaign in the ICC World Test Championship with a 2-0 win in the Caribbean, South Africa’s just starting off, and that too against a formidable opponent, a challenge du Plessis is mindful of but isn't reading too much into.

“We haven't played much Test cricket since the beginning of the year... so there has been a gap. Playing India in any condition is tough and it's all the more difficult when you are up against them at home. So a massive challenge for a young group but I'm more excited about the Test championship over two years. It is something refreshing, something new to look forward to,” he said.