TELFORD VICE in Wellington
IF Faf du Plessis picks players like he does socks, the look of South Africa’s XI for the second test against New Zealand at the Basin Reserve in Wellington on Thursday could be interesting.
As he sat behind a table festooned with microphones and recording devices on Wednesday, the hems of his tracksuit pants hiked up to reveal a standard grey sock on his right foot and, on his left, a lemon lime number.
Might that translate into surprises when the teams are revealed at the toss?
“I’ll see what the pitch looks like,” Du Plessis said.
“(On Tuesday) it was a bit green so that will determine the look of our team.
“I don’t expect too many changes; we’re looking at possibly one.”
What could that be?
“There’s a chance of playing an extra seamer or a spinner, but it’s highly unlikely.”
The pitch was a few shades greener than Du Plessis’ left sock on Tuesday, and only marginally less so on Wednesday.
But the locals say that doesn’t mean the ball will seam around corners.
So there’s every chance South Africa will stick with the attack that served them well enough in the drawn first test in Dunedin – Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Keshav Maharaj.
Not so the New Zealanders, who have lost Trent Boult to an upper leg injury he sustained in Dunedin.
Ross Taylor, who retired hurt with a torn calf, is also out.
The home side have not named their XI, but Tim Southee – who was left out for the first test to make room for a second spinner – and uncapped Neil Broom are likely to fill the enforced vacancies.
Taylor has scored 6030 runs at 47.10 and Boult has taken 190 wickets at 28.75, and between them they account for 131 test caps.
Their absence leaves two big holes in what must be considered New Zealand’s best side for Wellington’s conditions.
“If you lose two key players you do feel a bit light,” Du Plessis said.
“A player like Ross will get you consistent runs through the series; his stats tell that story.
“With a new guy it’s the unknown and it’s important to put pressure on him and not let him feel comfortable and give him easy boundaries and runs so he can settle.
“Boult is a huge loss but Southee comes back and he’s got the same experience.
“Whoever that third seamer will be – Matt Henry or Colin de Grandhomme – there’s some inexperience there.”
But, regardless of who the new faces are, they will be more accustomed than the South Africans to dealing the prevailing factor at the Basin: the kind of wind that could rip the Protea badge clean off a cap.
“We’ve got PE and Cape Town where the wind blows but it doesn’t feel like this,” Du Plessis said.
“Especially for the guys who have to bowl into the wind, it’s the biggest challenge.
“Even for spinners sometimes that’s a very difficult thing to do.
“When you’re batting it can affect your balance – you feel as if the wind is pushing you over.”
Who among South Africa’s bowlers would be the best choice to operate into the wind?
“The spinner,” Du Plessis said with a straight face.
“It’s a tough job from a seamer’s perspective.”
Which might make Maharaj want to book a flight home to Durban.
But Du Plessis also had a few other ideas.
“‘KG’ (Rabada), for a guy who bowls quick, is not scared of the challenge.
“‘Vern’ (Philander) doesn’t have to bowl quick, so he can run into the wind and give you that control.
“Morne has done the donkey work for years for South Africa.
“So all three seamers will be prepared to do the hard work.”
Two of them will need no reminding of that, and of what they accomplished in the drawn third test at this ground in March 2012.
Philander took 6/81 in New Zealand’s first innings and Morkel, who broke Ross Taylor’s arm in that innings, claimed a career-best 6/23 in the second dig.
The other survivors from that match, Hashim Amla and JP Duminy, scored 103 and 63 in the first innings.
In the first innings in Dunedin last week, they made a couple of singles between them.
Here’s a chance, then, for them to pull up their socks.
And who cares what colour they are.