Faf du Plessis © AFP
Faf du Plessis © Getty Images

Faf du Plessis on Thursday said that the pitch for the first Test against India, starting at Newlands on Friday, looked ideal for his team.”The groundsman has done a fantastic job,” said Du Plessis.”It’s been very, very hot but it looks like it’s going to be a good cricket wicket, nothing too extreme but it looks like it’s going to be exactly what we wanted.” After several days of hot weather the match pitch had a mottled appearance. It looked less green than it was when the South Africans assembled on Tuesday but there was still a good covering of grass. The ideal pitch, according to Du Plessis, is one that offers pace, bounce and some seam movement.

“You don’t want excessive movement that brings both bowling attacks into the game. We feel that our seam resources on a wicket that offers a bit of pace and bounce can exploit some areas in their batting line-up,” he said. For the first time in more than a year, South Africa have all their key bowlers fit, while the returning AB de Villiers needs to be slotted into what has been a settled batting middle order.”There are so many combinations,” said Du Plessis. “It is the hardest team selection I’ve been involved in. We have so many different options, we can almost pick different teams for different venues.”

Although coach Ottis Gibson indicated earlier in the week that it was unlikely Dale Steyn would be part of the fast bowling line-up after a long injury break, Du Plessis said the former world number one bowler had lost none of his skill.”Dale for me is the best bowler in the world,” said Du Plessis. “He hasn’t played for a while. He hasn’t got the overs under his legs that he would have wanted but facing Dale in the nets it feels like he’s got the same pace, the same swing.”

Du Plessis admitted that South Africa had produced some disappointing results in the past two years, notably away to India and at home to England in 2015-16 and in England in 2017, but said conditions, particularly in India, and injuries has been a factor. He said he looked forward to his team challenging for the number one Test ranking, currently held by India.”The next two or three years are going to be very exciting for South African cricket. We can push very hard to not only get to number one but to stay there for quite a bit.”

Du Plessis ratcheted up the rhetoric on the eve of the much- anticipated opening Test against India, saying they have a “score to settle” with the World No. 1. He talked about the 3-0 loss in 2015 away to India, highlighting that the Proteas are keen to even the score. The three-match series begins here tomorrow with the first Test. ”I don’t know when the next Test series against India is, but it’s probably the last time all of us (senior players) play against India and there’s no better way than playing a series in South Africa. We were disappointed the last time we went there and we’ve got a score to settle, so we’re excited for this series,” he added.

Du Plessis downplayed rivalry with Virat Kohli or any other Indian player for that matter, and outlined that South Africa instead intend to target the entire playing eleven to get the desired result. ”Obviously Virat is a very good player. His stats don’t lie. We are hoping we can put some pressure on him. If we can keep him quiet, we have a much better chance. But I see it as South Africa against India, I don’t see a rivalry between us. ”We don’t look at Virat alone. He doesn’t get more time than any of the other Indian batsmen,” du Plessis said.

Du Plessis is returning from injury and sat out the day- night Test against Zimbabwe. De Villiers led against Zimbabwe in du Plessis’ absence, but is not a confirmed starter for the first Test. ”It was frustrating at times. It’s 11 weeks now and I just feel now like I’m ready to play. Obviously time at home is nice, and the good thing is I didn’t miss much cricket for South Africa. I’m extremely hungry to play again. I would have liked to play against Zimbabwe but the batting feels good and hopefully I can take off from here,” said the skipper.

This series also marks the top-two ranked sides in ICC Test ranking coming together. India will not lose their no.1 ranking even with a 3-0 defeat, but according to du Plessis, that score-line is easier said than done. ”It’s good that we can have some importance to this series. Big series are why you play. We don’t have an Ashes so it’s good to see that India versus South Africa can start becoming a really big series. There are some really high-class players that are going to bash it out over the next four weeks. So that’s exciting,” du Plessis added.