SA's headache could be India's‚ too

Faf du Plessis (c) of South Africa during the 3rd Momentum ODI match between South Africa and Bangladesh at Buffalo Park on October 22, 2017 in East London.
Faf du Plessis (c) of South Africa during the 3rd Momentum ODI match between South Africa and Bangladesh at Buffalo Park on October 22, 2017 in East London.
Image: Richard Huggard/Gallo Images

Faf du Plessis has a headache.

It’s unlikely to ease until 10.30am on Friday‚ and he won’t know for hours afterwards if it’s been cured.

“This selection is probably one of the hardest that we are going to have to make‚” Du Plessis said at Newlands on Thursday ahead of Friday’s first test there between South Africa and India.

“There are just so many combinations you can look at. It’s a nice headache to have.

“It’s a possibility‚ especially up on the Highveld [to play four seamers]. But we’re still talking about what could be our strongest XI.

“I would like to give you a bit of insight into it but not quite yet.”

Pushed‚ specifically about Temba Bavuma’s chances of playing what with AB de Villiers also around‚ Du Plessis boxed cleverly non-committal.

“Bavuma‚ AB‚ Andile [Phehlukwayo]‚ [Chris] Morris‚ [Dale] Steyn‚ [Morne] Morkel … The list goes on.

“It’s tough decisions‚ and as a captain it’s probably the hardest selection I’ve had.

“But it’s certainly much better than having three seamers injured.”

South Africa know all about that kind of headache‚ what with Steyn‚ Philander‚ Morkel and Morris all having been in the wars in the past year.

Happily‚ for South Africa‚ perhaps not India‚ all are back in one piece — and back in the squad.

There is intense focus on Steyn‚ who hasn’t played a test since November 2016 and might miss out on Friday because of all those options and apparent doubts that he is fully ready to return to cricket’s biggest challenge.

“He hasn’t played for a while and he hasn’t got the overs under his legs that he would have wanted‚” Du Plessis said.

“But facing Dale in the nets‚ the skill feels like it hasn’t gone anywhere. He has got the same pace and the same swing.

“Skillwise it’s like he has just jumped back on that bicycle and is riding again.”

Du Plessis spoke moments after a blazingly bright noon had broken over Newlands.

The pitch at the centre of the ground’s noticeably green oval — note to Cape Town water worriers: Newlands has a borehole — has been the subject of so much scrutiny that it’s fair to wonder whether the media have run out of ideas.

“The wicket looks good‚ like it’s going to be a good cricket wicket‚” Du Plessis said.

“Nothing extreme: it looks like it’s going to be exactly what we wanted.”

The surface was uniformly green and grassy on Wednesday.

By Thursday it had had a brushcut and was khaki with a liberal scattering of long‚ green‚ grassy snakes — evidence of cracks that‚ usually at Newlands‚ do not widen significantly.

But what the pitch looks like doesn’t matter. What does matter is how it will play‚ and neither Du Plessis nor anyone else knows.

We do know that conditions are likely to favour fast bowling‚ and that South Africa have the better pace attack.

Do India have the better batting line-up?

Who knows considering they have spent the past two-and-a-half years and 31 tests hiding — and often winning — on slow surfaces.

“In a perfect world it will be a quick wicket that nips around a bit‚” Du Plessis said.

“We also want to try and eliminate spin as much as possible.

“You don’t want excessive seam movement because that brings both attacks into the game.

“We feel with our seam resources‚ on a wicket that has some pace and bounce‚ we can exploit some of those areas in their batting.”

Above and beyond all that‚ Friday marks the start of a series between the world’s top ranked teams‚ between one astute‚ clear-thinking captain and another‚ Virat Kohli‚ and between the memory of the disappointing insecurity that prompted the Indians to prepare diabolical pitches for South Africa’s tour there in November 2015 and what lay waiting at Newlands’ middle on Friday.

Maybe it really is all about the pitch.

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