India vs South Africa: Faf and Proteas ‘fight’ amid dark clouds

South Africa is entering a new phase, with the old guard giving way to a new generation, and competitive Faf du Plessis wants to keep fighting in Ranchi Test.

South Africa Test captain Faf du Plessis during the second Test against India at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Pune.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

 

After South Africa suffered a massive 203-run defeat in the first Test in Visakhapatnam, skipper Faf du Plessis' reaction was not one of regret but optimism.

“I thought it was a real line in the sand for us as a team. Proud of the first innings, the way we batted. There was an opportunity for us to go the other way and we didn’t,” du Plessis had said after his team had shrugged off the early dismissals to come within 72 runs of India's first-innings total of 502.

Now for a side that prides itself on never giving up, the killer instinct is what's been missing from the Proteas. The plucky counterattacking knocks that forced the first Test to go into the fifth day were missing in Pune; with the bowlers lacking energy and ideas as the Indian batsmen launched a relentless onslaught.

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"It is tough. It is tough when you're losing," du Plessis said on the eve of the third Test in Ranchi. "For us, we're very, very competitive people, so that’s a dent to your confidence, but international sport is supposed to be hard, and the guys who've stayed at the top for a long time will tell you that it comes with ups and it comes with downs, personally and from a team point of view.

"So it's important for us to understand that we have to fight our way out of these last two losses. We can't expect things just to happen. They won't happen, because India is a very powerful team at the moment.”

It's no rocket science that they are missing the services of Dale Steyn, whose spark ignited the team's intensity even on the flattest of wickets. Steyn played six Tests in India and took 26 wickets at an average of 21.38; the next best is Morne Morkel with 21 scalps at 32.28. Both have left a bowling vacuum that's proving hard to fill.

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Kagiso Rabada was expected to lead the Proteas pace attack but the dearth of reverse swing, coupled with the absence of attacking intent, fetched him only four wickets in two Tests.

The Ranchi pitch could bring some much-needed respite. “I think the wicket will spin, I looked at the pitch and it looks dry and hard. So I think reverse swing and spin will play a factor in this Test match,” du Plessis said.

There's a silver lining amid the dark clouds shrouding South Africa cricket at the moment. It is an evolving side that's entering a new phase, with the old guard giving way to a new generation. Du Plessis had expressed his excitement at leading a new-look squad at the start of the series, stating that it's a really good time for him to be involved with a young team.

Faf du Plessis, along with team-mates, at the Birsa Munda International Airport in Ranchi on Thursday.   -  PTI

 

"There's a lot of senior players that are out of our system, our leadership group has changed completely, you've lost all your experience and those players. But what that does, it's a new time for growing new leaders in our team," he had said in Visakhapatnam.

All teams go through such a phase. AB de Villiers and Steyn, together with Hashim Amla, Imran Tahir, and Jacques Kallis, had formed the nucleus of the side that reached the top. So if one were to judge the emerging crop based on the lofty standards, then it will be as much a disservice to the youngsters as to the meticulous planning needed for improvement.

Kim Hughes had stepped down from Australia captaincy in 1984-85 after being repeatedly beaten by West Indies and losing the Ashes a few times. The retirements of Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh and Greg Chappell meant the Australian team needed a facelift. It was against this backdrop that Allan Border took over a side of relatively inexperienced players and forged a unit that went on to win the 1987 World Cup in the sub-continent. Their achievements precipitated an era which saw Australia dominate world cricket for nearly two decades. It is, therefore a gradual, step-by-step process.

The new management at Cricket South Africa also has to deal with the Kolpak rule which saw high-profile South African players disregarding international cricket.

Duanne Olivier signed a three-year contract with Yorkshire, following fellow fast bowler Kyle Abbott, who joined Hampshire in 2017. Rilee Rossouw was a first-choice ODI player when he joined Hampshire around the same time. Morkel, too, signed a contract with Surrey, but only after his international retirement in 2018.

It's a complex assortment of factors that South Africa needs to wrap its head around to overcome this challenging phase.