TELFORD VICE in Nottingham
NOT quite five minutes into Faf du Plessis’ press conference at Trent Bridge on Thursday, a man began hammering on a wall of the room from the outside.
High on the wall opposite, a row of ancient bats, their faces venerably stained and worn, and that had the names of their former owners, luminaries like Victor Trumper, Learie Constantine and, yes folks, WG Grace — two, no less — cast in brass above them rattled in objection at the unwelcome racket.
Which did seem rude at a county where the suits have drilled down to a level of detail that has prompted them to post signs in the pressbox that read, in capitals, “Psst! Please do not move when the bowler is bowling from this end or you will distract the batsman, interrupt the game and be very embarrassed.”
Du Plessis was momentarily distracted, but soon enough he returned his attention to the issues at hand.
The most pressing of them was why someone who has played in 17 of South Africa’s last 20 tests and has not missed any of their previous dozen matches in the format had been dropped for the second test against England — which starts at Trent Bridge on Friday.
“It was difficult as I know what he brings to the team, aside from his runs,” Du Plessis said. “But he would acknowledge that runs, at the end of the day, are what guarantee your place in the team.
“He was possibly given a longer run because you know what he does for the team.
“But his performance hasn’t been consistent enough.
“They’re not what we need from a No. 4 batsman.”
Ah, JP Duminy. In those 20 tests he has been to the crease 30 times and scored 823 runs at 29.39 with two centuries and two half-centuries.
After his first three test innings — in Australia in December 2008 — he averaged a stupendous 108.5.
Things could only go downhill from there, but Duminy has dwindled from a player who looked like reserving a spot for his brass plaque and bat on South Africa’s wall of fame to someone who will now bang on the dressingroom wall in the hopes of being let back in. At 33, and with his confidence in tatters, that seems unlikely.
Duminy will be replaced by Du Plessis himself, who missed the first test at Lord’s as he was on paternity leave.
How did Duminy take the news?
“JP [on Wednesday] served the team and took complete focus off himself,” Du Plessis said.
“That’s what this team is all about — how well you can help your teammates and not just look after your own game.”
In the other confirmed change to South Africa’s XI, Duanne Olivier comes in for Kagiso Rabada — who earned a ban for the second test for accumulating four demerit points.
England have retained the team who won by 211 runs inside four days at Lord’s but there could be another alteration to South Africa’s side.
“The decision is whether we want to go with seven batsmen or an extra allrounder,” Du Plessis said.
The smart money is on Theunis de Bruyn making way for Chris Morris to give South Africa four frontline quicks.*
As a reaction to a match in which South Africa’s batsmen let them down badly, that would be perverse: they would bolster their strength and take away from their weakness.
But, as a plan for bouncing back at a ground that has tended to aid swing and seam bowlers, it makes some kind of sense.
“There were a lot of times England found themselves under pressure [at Lord’s],” Du Plessis said. “The disappointing thing was how quickly they got out of it.
“It was almost as if, when they threw a punch at us, we sat back and let it happen and expected something to change.”
Something that has changed for South Africa is that Russell Domingo has returned home for his mother’s funeral.
Who had stepped into the breach?
“I took it upon myself to step up a bit more in terms of leadership, because we have lost a valuable leader,” Du Plessis said.
“I’ve asked the senior players to step up more, even this week because every vital bit of leadership needs to come out at a time like this.
“We need our leaders to be accounted for.”
Even confined to the dressingroom, Duminy remains among them.
* Morris was preferred to De Bruyn.