Proteas in England

Faf edging closer to Test spot

2012-08-23 11:59
Faf du Plessis (Gallo)
Cape Town – The Proteas’ one-day international series against England, starting in Cardiff on Friday, offers the increasingly prominent Faf du Plessis an opportunity not only to cement his limited-overs position but advance his Test credentials as well.

South Africa’s now planet-leading Test side is significantly settled at present, as reflected in every Test of the three-match triumph over Andrew Strauss’s side featuring the same XI from the tourists.

If stability breeds success, then it was certainly illustrated with some conviction there.

I sense a desperately limited prospect of the Proteas changing their Test mix at all, assuming all troops are fit, for the first of three encounters with Australia at Brisbane in early November -- unless pitch conditions at the Gabba are exaggerated enough to require sudden bolstering of a specific department.

AB de Villiers is pretty sure to be cajoled (if that is even required?) to keep wicket at least for that important series, and in an environment probably making the glove-work less tricky than in England.

Knowing coach Gary Kirsten’s decidedly anti-alarmist philosophy, too, lingering doubts that may exist in some circles around the rights to regular positions of Imran Tahir as first-choice spinner and Jacques Rudolph as a middle-order batsman, will not quickly be matched by alteration from the wise men.

If their respective key “numbers” in the series triumph over England didn’t look especially striking, both Tahir and Rudolph shone well enough in smallish doses at handy times to suggest that normal service in team composition will continue for the short term.

But that also doesn’t mean that a player like Du Plessis – quite significantly added to the Test squad during the English campaign on a standby basis -- can’t continue to keep Kirsten and the selectors thinking, through his weight of performance in ODIs.

Kirsten has stated on several occasions that he views the 50-overs arena as a good opportunity to assess the broad international “bottle” of players chosen -- meaning that ODI success can, indeed, be a passport of some sort to the Test arena.

So if someone like Dean Elgar, the left-handed top-order batsman who is the only uncapped member of the current ODI party in England, gets a chance and comes to prominence during the five-match series, he will also enhance his prospects of a crack in the not too distant future at the longer format.

Pretoria-born Du Plessis, however, arguably shapes up as the likeliest next cab off the batting rank should the Test team require a shuffle to its resources, for whatever reason.

He is perhaps just a little handicapped by the fact that his List A (limited-overs) average of 43.82 eclipses his not-too-special first-class batting average of 38.09.

By contrast, for example, South Africa’s two premier Test batsmen at the moment, Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla, have better first-class averages than List A ones – Kallis averages 55 in “FC” combat and 44 in List A, and Amla 50 and 44 respectively.

Then again, maybe Du Plessis has been subconsciously pigeon-holed as a one-day player, and never been adequately encouraged to beef up his act in the longer version.

An increasingly mature and well-travelled competitor at the age of 28, Du Plessis made big, welcome runs while captain of the SA ‘A’team who beat their Sri Lankan counterparts 1-0 in a two-match unofficial Test series in Durban in the middle of our winter.

The attack-minded right-hander averaged 111, including a score of 144 in the first match and 55 not out in the second.

He is an attractive sort of package to have lurking as a Test candidate also because of his occasional leg-spin, and an ability as an outfielder that is very close to Jonty Rhodes-like.

Du Plessis looks more and more assured after 21 ODI appearance for his country; continuation of that trend against England over the next couple of weeks (he knows local conditions well through his spell on Lancashire’s books) will simultaneously keep him “bubbling” as a Test prospect ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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