Having suffered Test series defeats to India and England last year, Faf du Plessis knows how difficult Australia will find it to bounce back from their poor tour results © Cricket Australia/Getty Images
The house that South Africa built to become the No.1 ranked Test team in the world had its foundations in winning away from home. They went 15 series and nine years undefeated in contests from the UK to the UAE before India outspun them exactly a year ago. A dramatic decline, a period of deep introspection and the mapping of a new direction followed and even though the top of the table is a long way away, South Africa want to start heading there by doing what they used to do best: rack up results on the road.
“The record we had away from home was remarkable. That was something we were incredibly proud of and then that changed. We went to India and we lost 4-0 there. We also lost a lot of experienced guys. But I think it’s going to be tough for any team traveling to India in the next two or three years. I expect that India are going to keep the No. 1 ranking certainly for the next year with all the home tests they’ve got,” du Plessis said “But you can’t just rely on playing well in your home conditions. The team that’s No. 1 needs to play the best away from home. That’s something we need to start building up again.”
Australia’s (lack of ) home advantage has been a major theme in the build-up to this series, not least because it starts in Perth. The venue is not only so similar to the Wanderers that many in the South African squad feel completely at home, it is also the only Australian ground where South Africa have not lost a Test.
Still, South Africa remain a little wary of an Australian side who, like them, have returned from an away tour where they were embarrassed by the conditions as much as by the opposition, and may look to familiarity to restore their reputations.
“They will take comfort in the fact that they are playing in home conditions. When we went to India and we were a little bit scarred, we took comfort in coming home,” du Plessis said.
In the next breath, however, he warned Australia that they may not able to make amends for their mishaps in Sri Lanka purely because they are home, and he would know. South Africa lost their home series against England after their India thrashing because their form had fallen too far. “It took time. Some of the guys were not in form. That may be the case (for Australia as well).”
Australia have appeared reticent in the pre-series exchanges, refusing to indulge in slanging matches. They’ve left it to South Africa to issue threats about who they are targeting and how there may come a time to turn on their nasty sides. Du Plessis seems unsure about whether the silence will last and what will happen if it doesn’t.
“When I’ve played against Australia in the past they were probably the most verbal team in the world. That doesn’t mean it’s bad or good. All it means is that is how they play,” du Plessis said. “Personalities determine how you play in that space. The kind of players Australia have now under Steven Smith, is similar to ours. It’s about respecting the opposition and letting the cricket do the talking. If it goes away from that, I don’t know how that’s going to have an effect in the series. We will just have to soak it up and work hard to get momentum on our side.”
If that sounds overly serious for a captain who should be setting the tone in spicing things up, that’s because du Plessis knows he needs to be sensible in his approach as South Africa seek a third successive series in Australia. They are not the group of 2012 or even 2008, when their team was structured by an experienced batting group. The bulk of senior players in this squad are in the pace pack. Although they are the ones who will ultimately be responsible for taking the wickets that could lead to a series win, the rest will need to pull their weight.
“If you look at the top six that came over four years ago, I think I was the only guy who hadn’t played 30-odd test matches,” he said. “Test cricket is all about experience. That’s something we have in the bowling department with Dale, Vernon and Morne. Kagiso is a nice, young talent and our spinners are brand new to Test cricket. I think the Australian team are in a similar space at the moment. They haven’t had that similar amount of experience as the team had that dominated for so long. They’re also a few young guys, a few very experienced guys. The teams are very evenly matched.”
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo