A sight that will make du Plessis smile
Grassy Wanderers pitch a far cry from the one in Centurion
The grass on the pitch at the Wanderers will force a smile from the normally taciturn Faf du Plessis.
It is typically grassy and should provide bounce and seam movement for the pacemen. The track, expected to be lively, could pose more searching questions to the already beleaguered Indian batsmen.
When the Indians trained here on a quiet Sunday, the batsmen would have been aware of the challenges of facing a four-pronged South African pace attack on this surface when the third Test gets underway on Wednesday. There are indications that vice-captain Ajinky Rahane may be recalled for the third Test.
du Plessis was both disappointed and baffled at the nature of the pitch for the second Test in Centurion which, actually, suited the Indians’ brand of play more.
He was angry, too. After all, the South Africans had to cope with rank turners — du Plessis called them “bordering on the extreme” — when the side toured India in 2015.
And the Indian spinners exploited the conditions for a 3-0 sweep. The setback and memories of those pitches still hurt and the Proteas want the same score-line back — this time in their favour.
Even if the pitch gave the Indians an advantage in Centurion, the South Africans dug deep, regrouped, displayed resilience with the bat, control and skill with the ball, and eventually quelled the Indian challenge.
And, du Plessis has been brilliant at the helm. du Plessis’ captaincy has been aggressive without being rash. He can be ruthless with his methods, goes for the jugular. Importantly, he does not let slip the crucial game-defining moments.
He is calm under pressure, doesn’t get carried away by the emotions of the moment. du Plessis had his fingers on the pulse of the game in the first two Tests.
He has often dared batsmen with his field placements — leaving the mid-wicket open for Virat Kohli was a ploy to get him to play across the line for a leg-before verdict — while his bowling changes have been spot-on.
His chemistry with new coach Ottis Gibson has been working. Both are like-minded and attacking, and the brave decision to play four specialist quicks at the expense of a batsman (Temba Bavuma) or an all-rounder (Chris Morris) was a master-stroke.
Even after Dale Steyn was injured and could not bowl in the Indian second innings at Newlands, South Africa had three seamers to complete a demolition job.
At Centurion, South Africa unearthed Lungi Ngidi, who was quick and on target; clearly a man for the future. To cover all bases, South Africa fielded a fifth bowler in left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj.
The South African fielding and catching has been exceptional. In the two Tests, the host have put down just two opportunities while the Indians dropped nine.
The razor-sharp fielding has backed the bowling, put the batsmen under stress, and created run-out scenarios; these were cashed in by lightning quick throws.
The electric A.B. de Villiers has created chances out of nothing. The tall Morne Morkel has flung himself to pull off sensational catches near the boundary ropes.
de Villiers has sizzled with the willow, turned matches around. The manner in which he picks the length early and plays the ball late shows how gifted he is.
The South African batting is not without chinks, has a tendency to lose wickets in bunches, but du Plessis has been resourceful in the middle-order, often rallying with the tail, employing calculated aggression or grinding it out.
For du Plessis and his men, there is unfinished work yet in the series.