Kyle Abbott was central to South Africa’s third consecutive series win in Australia © Getty Images
There’s a generation of South Africans whose memories of watching their Test team play in Australia are the complete opposite of Faf du Plessis and his team’s. Generation now. Anyone 10 or younger has never known a South African side that has lost a Test series in Australia and to have added a layer to that legacy is this team’s greatest joy.
“We know how hard it is. We watched on TV for so many years how hard it was to was for South Africa to come here and do well,” du Plessis said. “I suppose the younger guys looking from back home can see that it’s possible to come here and to an extent and dominate an Australian team. It is extremely special for us. It’s something we will remember as a team. That’s exactly what we came here to do, we want to create memories together.”
Not since the West Indies between 1984 and 1992 has a team won three successive series in Australia but that is not the only thing that stands out about this South African victory. It is that they did it without the two players who have been stalwarts for a decade – AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn who are both injured – and Morne Morkel about whom there are concerns about match fitness. Also Hashim Amla, the leader of the batting line-up, contributed only 48 runs across three innings.
It has taken a total team effort, something du Plessis has lauded. “This team has been very close to exceptional,” he said. “There haven’t been many things we’ve done wrong. We have been consistent in the way we perform. We are not relying on one or two players. All XI are putting our hands up at different times and that’s what you want from your team.”
Australia were warned of South Africa’s ability to spread the load last month in the ODI series. Albeit in a different format, in different conditions, South Africa’s 5-0 victory did provide the springboard for this series. “We came across here with a lot of confidence,” du Plessis said.
Self-belief helped South Africa bounce back from a poor first day in Perth to take 10 for 86 and set themselves up for victory there. It also propelled them to pluck Australia for 85 in the first innings in Hobart. The twin collapses showed South Africa that Australia had weaknesses they could exploit, especially if they targetted their senior players.
“When you are a team that’s under the pump and under pressure and not playing as well as you like, confidence will fade away,” du Plessis said. “It’s hard to fake it. We didn’t give them the opportunity to do it [assert themselves over a long period of time]. It was important to keep the important guys in the team quiet – David Warner and Steve Smith. If you can put a lot of pressure on them, the younger guys won’t have that same punch. We made sure those guys have been relatively quiet in the series. Even guys like [Mitchell] Starc, he bowled well in that one spell but if you are on top, that’s when you get a five-for and you clean the tail up. We were just really good in making sure we stopped that.”
Faf du Plessis: “This team has been very close to exceptional. There haven’t been many things we’ve done wrong.” © Cricket Australia/Getty Images
On the other hand, once South Africa got an opening, they were unstoppable. It took just 95 minutes for them to finish Australia off on the fourth morning. Du Plessis did not expect the series win to come so quickly, although he suspected victory was inevitable after the pressure his bowlers piled on late on the third day. “I didn’t expect it to happen that quickly,” du Plessis said. “Yesterday, our bowling was exceptional. The last hour and a half, we were so good in our areas and relentless. We didn’t get the results we wanted but we knew today if we came back, it would change for us. This is one of those sessions we will always remember as a team, that won us the series and it was unbelievable.”
It was unbelievable because it was more dominant than a South African side has ever been in Australia. Four years ago, South Africa battled through the first two drawn Tests and then won the third. Eight years ago, they won the first two Tests and lost the third. This time, du Plessis wants to take everything South Africa can from this trip, which means a win in their first day-night Test in Adelaide.
“That is the mission for us now,” he said. “We want to do that very badly. We won’t rest on our laurels and be happy with 2-1 or even 2-0. We’ve got Australia in a position where they are under pressure and we don’t want to let that go. It’s hard enough to get them in this position so we will do everything we can to make it 3-0.”
What memories that will make.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Source: ESPN Crickinfo