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
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
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