Not often do you hear an Australian Test side, in the middle of a home summer, admitting to being “annoyed” by the opposition’s tactics. Even rarer is the sight of a their press clutching at straws, without the season-defining performances that have come to characterise so many Novembers and Decembers over the years.
“Matt Finish” was plastered all over The Adelaide Advertiser’s sports section, as a nod to Matt Renshaw’s gritty 8* to take Australia to stumps without any damage. Renshaw is a promising young batsman, with a lot of steel for someone his age, but is this what it has come to? A 12-over stonewall making front page headlines, in the absence of much else to write home about?
In a week where mints, lollies and confectionery of all sorts have filled reams of newsprint and hours of TV coverage, with assorted stock footage of Faf du Plessis, this was the surest indicator the South African captain had done something for the local press to finally move on.
On unrelenting boos and a sheer lack of grace, the Adelaide crowd reflected the behavior of the host broadcaster and their press pack in the week leading up to the Test. Du Plessis admitted to being “motivated” more than ever before at the start of the first day, and the boos only added on to it. Walking in to this innings with a series highest of 37 so far, du Plessis gave up on being defensive and brought out his free-scoring game he is known for in the shorter formats.
Where was he, again? Adelaide, home to one of his Test career’s defining moments so far. It is the site of his 2012 debut, where he combined with JP Duminy to script one of those rare fifth day draws on Australian soil. Psychologically, that set up South Africa’s series win, their second consecutive one down under. Things have changed markedly in these four years. He is now South Africa’s captain, in the middle of ball-tampering allegations the Aussie media have only been too happy to lap up in the aftermath of two disastrous defeats.
Du Plessis and his team mates have repeatedly insisted on their “mission” to whitewash Australia for the first time in a three-match series, and if as a batsman he refused to be cowed down and did not put a foot wrong on Day 1, he took it a few notches up as a captain. After a counterattack that saw him get to his sixth Test hundred with wickets falling around him, du Plessis indulged in some of his own gamesmanship by forcing a quick declaration at 259 for 9, with 12 overs to bowl to Australia’s top-order under lights.
Overhearing umpires talking to David Warner about his ineligibility to open the batting, having stayed off the field for a while, and almost instantly declaring the innings, is about as Australian as it gets. Twelve overs under the lights despite not enough runs to feel safe? We’ll take it. We can’t put a foot wrong. A few overs of safe batting to stumps, then come back tomorrow? Nah, we’re instinctive and aggressive beyond your collective understanding.
Such is the swagger and confidence among this South African lot, under an inspirational leadership, that nothing seems to sway them. The next few days might turn out to be the beginning of an Australian renaissance, but Faf du Plessis has left an indelible mark on one of his country’s most memorable Test series.
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