South Africa captain Faf du Plessis said on Thursday on the eve of the first Test that the clash with India is the sort of big series the Proteas love to play in, and, according to the official rankings, it is a meeting of unequivocally the two best teams in the world.
India enjoy a healthy lead over South Africa at the top of the rankings, and the Proteas are six points ahead of third-placed England as the two teams prepare for the first Test starting in Cape Town on Friday. The second Test will then be played at SuperSport Park in Centurion from Saturday, January 13.
“It’s good that there is such an importance to this series, we don’t have the Ashes but this sort of big series is why we play the game. It’s good to see that this is starting to become that sort of rivalry and there will be 22 really high-class players out there,” said Du Plessis.
It is the first major series for the Proteas under new coach Ottis Gibson and with Multiply Titans star Du Plessis installed as the undisputed captain in all three formats, but it is also unlikely that this current crop of players, who have produced some unbelievable Test highlights, will tackle India again. The next meeting between the two countries is only scheduled for after the next World Cup, when the Proteas will tour the sub-continent in October/November 2019.
“Hopefully this is not my last summer, but our next series against India is probably a couple of years away so it’s probably the last time all of us will play them, and the last time we played them, over there, the results were disappointing so we have a score to settle,” said Du Plessis.
The captain hinted that the employment of Dale Steyn may not take place in the first Test this weekend, but the Titans strike bowler is almost certainly going to be roaring in at SuperSport Park.
“Maybe his record at Newlands [65 wickets at 21.93 in 13 Tests] will change the selection, but for me Dale is the number one fast bowler in the world. Maybe he doesn’t have the overs in his legs yet, but facing him in the nets, the skills are still there. There’s still the same pace and the same swing, his skills have gone nowhere,” said Du Plessis.
There are three Titans fast bowlers in the squad in Morné Morkel, Steyn and Chris Morris, but fitting all three of them into the XI for Newlands will be incredibly hard.
“This selection is one of the hardest we’ve had to make because there are so many combinations and options. It’s a nice headache to have though and we can almost consider a different team to play in different conditions in the rest of the series. We’re not quite yet at a starting XI, from all angles it’s very hard, but we will choose the best specific team for Newlands.
“There’s Temba Bavuma, AB, Chris Morris, Andile, Dale and Morné, and it’s tough decisions to make. As captain, it’s probably the hardest selection I’ve had to make, but I’d rather have this than three seamers being out injured. On paper, with the names available, we can choose a very strong side,” added Du Plessis.
The return of AB de Villiers to Test action is also one of the most anticipated aspects of the series and the Titans stalwart is apparently champing at the bit.
“It’s very important that AB is fresh and is hungry to score some big runs. He’s had a good break, he’s mentally strong and that’s half the battle won already. I think he’s going to be a really good asset for us this series, as well as Hashim Amla, who is in really good form,” concluded Du Plessis.