“The first tough thing about touring Sri Lanka is the heat and we’ll be there in mid-summer. On our last tour, we lost four of the five tosses and had to bowl first every time. I’m not even a bowler, although I do keep busy in the field, but for the first time ever, I actually fell asleep in my chair before I batted because I was so drained.
“You’ve got to really have mental strength because you are so exhausted and you need to have an extra tank,” Du Plessis said yesterday at the launch of the IXU brand of cricket equipment, for which he is an ambassador.
And although the Proteas are heading into the sub-continent, Du Plessis said batting in Sri Lanka is significantly harder than in India.
“The pitches are harder to bat on than in India, in some ways they’re between South Africa and India. In India, the turn is low and slow, but in Sri Lanka you get bounce and turn and they have very good spinners. It’s a deadly combination,” Du Plessis said.
The 29-year-old has made an impressive start to his Proteas career, averaging 52.42 after 14 Tests and 34.56 in T20 internationals with a strike rate of 125.96. But his record in ODIs is modest, averaging just 27.55 after 47 games. The vast majority of his Test appearances for South Africa have been at home, with just four Tests abroad, so Du Plessis is eager to improve his performances away from home. He had an awful time last year in Sri Lanka, scoring just 57 runs in the five ODIs.
“I anticipated that Sri Lanka would be a lot like India, but it was an eye-opener. You need to get yourself in, but once you understand the pitch, it becomes easier. But the initial 20 balls are very tough and only then can you cope,” Du Plessis said.
South Africa start the three-match ODI series in the capital Colombo on July 6 and the Titans star said getting in and making starts count would be key factors.
“As a team, we need to focus on making sure that if we get in, then we score 80s or hundreds; 30s and 40s aren’t going to do the job over there. Kumar Sangakkara is a prime example – he scored 372 runs in those five games last year.
“Our game plan’s going to be to extend those partnerships in the top three, create a platfoirm for the great power-hitters we have like JP Duminy, David Miller and AB de Villiers, they are so dangerous. But the most important thing is that someone in the top three bats time and gets a big score,” Du Plessis said.
The boundary-hitting ability of someone like Miller could actually keep Du Plessis out of the ODI side, and the T20 captain was philosophical and honest about this.
“I moved up from number six to number three in the ODI side because of my technique against the new ball, but obviously Jacques Kallis is now in my role and it’s going to be hard to get in the team. Coming in in the 30th over against spinners, it’s more difficult for me to adapt and I’m probably going to be competing with David for a place and he’s a better finisher than me,” Du Plessis admitted.
The absence of Kallis and Graeme Smith from the Test side makes Du Plessis a certainty and a key player in the five-day team, however.
“In the Tests I think I’m going to bat four. I don’t mind coming in early, defence is my strong point. In a perfect world, you’d like AB to bat four because he’s our best batsman, but he’s going to be keeping wicket as well.
“Hashim Amla’s record at three is amazing, he’s been so successful there and it’s almost the most important position in the team, so I can’t see that changing. The only real question is whether we play seven batsman, two spinners or an extra seamer.”