Shining without stars

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Hobart

“THE game goes on.” Faf du Plessis is, as they might say in these parts, a wordy bastard. But none of the thousands of others he spoke last week said more than that simple sentence.

South Africa came to Australia without AB de Villiers. They lost Dale Steyn early in the piece at the WACA, where Hashim Amla went for a duck in one innings and scored a solitary single in the other.

De Villiers, Steyn, Amla – take any of those giants out of any team and it shouldn’t be anywhere near its best. Remove all three and it should implode.

That South Africa did not fall apart in Perth, that they instead rose to deliver one of the finest performances in test history, is as close as cricket gets to miracle making.

At least, that’s the romantic version. Prosaically, see paragraph one above.

The game stops for nothing and no-one. Even players as good as De Villiers cannot stop that from happening.

And teams have no choice but to try and keep up if they want to win.

“Obviously we’d like AB with us all the time,” Du Plessis said. “But it creates an opportunity for guys to not rely on players like him and really come to the party.

“If you look at our performances in the last while, guys have really done that. Everyone has looked at themselves and said we needed to up our game, make sure you put in performances that can be AB de Villiers-like.

“That’s what happened when Dale went down. He gets a lot of five-wicket hauls for us, and with him missing ‘KG’ (Kagiso Rabada) stepped up (to take seven wickets in the match).

“That’s great to see, that there’s guys who can step in because this team will go through another transition period.

“Our team is very well balanced with young and older guys at the moment. But the more we play together as a test team the better we’ll get, because we’re still quite inexperienced as a test team.”

Better? How?

By becoming a settled team who play for each other. By understanding the danger of being a volatile combination of immortals and mortals. By shining without stars.

“You’re not always going to have all 11 guys performing,” Du Plessis said. “It’s about trying to get the guys who are performing on the day to make contributions so they can win you a game.

“We had a few of those guys stand up and do that in the (first test). I’ve read a few times people saying that ‘Hash’ scored one run and that we managed to bat really well.

“That’s what I want this team to be about, for everyone to make sure that they contribute whenever they get the opportunity. And if it’s not your day it’s not your day.

“That’s fine. You’re going to get another opportunity. It’s about making sure that when you do get in a position of strength, like JP (Duminy) and Dean (Elgar) did (in their partnership of 250), to really put it to the opposition.

“We would love all 11 to perform but I know that’s not always going to happen.” 

These are big, brave ideas, and perhaps Du Plessis wouldn’t be so forthcoming with them if his team weren’t playing the cricket of their lives.

Or is this the kind of thing that bounces off the dressingroom walls, that is the kernel of conversations long and short?

“We don’t talk about it at all,” Elgar said with a look of dismay that such a question could be fathomed, nevermind asked. “It just comes naturally.”

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