South Africa captain Faf du Plessis has shown in limited-overs cricket that he has all the strokes, but he said after his determined unbeaten century against New Zealand on Sunday that he has decided that the most important tool to equip himself with in Test cricket is patience.
Du Plessis batted for 377 minutes and faced 234 balls as he finished with 112 not out on the second day of the second Test at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Sunday and, while some may have considered it slow and heavy going at times, he was pleased with the pacing of his innings.
“I feel like I’ve been hitting the ball quite nicely, so I just wanted to make sure I knuckled down and made it count. My game plan now is to be very patient and wait for the bowlers to come into the right areas. When I’m at my best in Test cricket is when I mentally tire out the opposition and then, when the opportunity to score quick runs comes, I take it. I believe in what I do and my game plan,” Du Plessis said after the close of play which came with South Africa in firm control, New Zealand teetering on 38 for three in reply to their 481 for eight declared.
Although South Africa’s top five batsmen all passed 50 for just the second time in their Test history – the previous occasion being the 2010 Test against India at the same venue – Du Plessis said conditions had not been easy for batting.
“Since Day One it’s been a pitch where a lot happens and we needed one guy to anchor the innings and keep them out for as long as possible. We thought that 400 would be a really good score on that pitch, which still has a lot going for it. The batsmen up front did very well to be so patient and 481 was a very good result for us.
“The grass stands up a bit more in the morning and late afternoon and in the last hour you can see the indentations in the pitch because of the light, but when the sun is shining brightly the pitch looks fine. That sort of thing plays on your mind and the ball also grips more when there is more moisture in the air,” Du Plessis said.
The skipper added, however, that it is not going to be easy to run through the New Zealand batting line-up on Monday.
“The pitch has speeded up a bit from the first day and we anticipate that it will be up-and-down on day five, but days two and three are the best days for batting. So we expect to work hard, we’ll have to be really patient. It’s going to be a grafting day with the ball to set up the game, we need to be relentless on that off stump, back-of-a-length, and then it will be a challenge for the New Zealand batsmen,” Du Plessis said.
Du Plessis’ century could not have come at a better time, ending a run of 11 Tests without a hundred, while it was also heartening to see JP Duminy get some runs, the left-hander stroking 88 as he and the captain took their overnight fourth-wicket partnership to 71 on Sunday morning.
“JP is hugely talented and we just wanted to give him confidence and back him by batting him at four and it came off very well. You can see he’s in good touch and he’s being more positive, that’s what he’s changed, which has led to a better mindset. Hopefully it’s the beginning of a new era for him.
“For myself, I’m just happy to prove to my critics that I still belong. Whether I’m captain or not, I need to score runs,” Du Plessis said.
While Du Plessis was enjoying his century and a thoroughly successful day for the Proteas, his old backyard opponent and childhood friend Neil Wagner took the plaudits for New Zealand, taking five for 86 in 39 overs of impressive toil.
“Neil bowled very well, he’s aggressive, he likes to bowl short and attack the batsman. He’s a grafter, he runs in most of the day and tries his best,” Du Plessis acknowledged.
Tim Southee, the leader of the Black Caps attack, also praised the Pretoria-born and educated left-arm seamer.
“Neil has been outstanding for a long period of time and he reaped the rewards for his efforts. He generally bowls the tough overs, nine out of ten times he’s on when the pitch has flattened out and the ball is older, but he finds a way. He never gives up and keeps running in,” Southee said.