Faf du Plessis feared truncated game would’ve helped West Indies more

Faf du Plessis
Faf du Plessis

It’s been a tournament of mixed emotions for Faf du Plessis, so it was fitting that his relief at finally getting “the horse out of the shed” in registering South Africa’s first point in four attempts should be tempered by frustration on a rain-wrecked day in Southampton that denied his side the chance to get into a proper World Cup dogfight.

That said, by the latter stages of a five-hour rain delay, du Plessis – who had yet to get off the mark in the first seven deliveries of his innings – admitted that his team’s desire to get back onto the field had been tempered by the fear that a rain-shortened contest would have played into the hands of their opponents.

Having lost two early wickets with only 29 runs on the board in 7.3 overs, the likelihood would have been a favourable DLS adjustment for West Indies, no matter how well South Africa had recovered. And so, in the final analysis, du Plessis was content to take his side’s battle for World Cup survival into Saturday’s clash with Afghanistan in Cardiff – the first of what he now knows will be five must-win contests.

“The horse is out of the shed, if that’s the right wording,” said du Plessis. “You know we wanted to play a full game today. I think it’s pretty obvious that when you play a team like West Indies, just because of the make-up of their side. So it’s disappointing because it’s important for us to get some cricket in and start ticking over. But we can’t control the weather. So as a team, we’ll take the one point and move forward to the next week.”

Given the grey skies that dogged Southampton all day, there’s clearly no knowing how West Indies’ own hard hitters would have fared when faced with an attack led once again by Kagiso Rabada and beefed up by the inclusion of the left-arm seamer, Beuran Hendricks – Dale Steyn’s newly acclimatised replacement. However, the available evidence suggested that South Africa actually dodged a bullet – especially after their designated mainstay, Hashim Amla, had been blasted from the crease in Sheldon Cottrell’s second over, to take his tournament tally to 25 runs in three visits.

“Hash is a class player,” said du Plessis. “You know it’s tough on a wicket like that because, when you are opening up the innings, you need a bit of luck to go your way. Like most of our batters, it’s just a matter of getting in, and getting those starts converted into runs, because if you can get through the first 10-15 overs, that’s when the scores come.”

There didn’t seem to be much prospect of any batsmen getting themselves in on a tricky deck, however. Aiden Markram fenced a short ball to the keeper to give Cottrell his second breakthrough, and the difficulty of knowing how to pace the rest of their innings was bound to have played on South Africa’s minds, given that they were nominally expected to see out a full 50 overs, but were almost certainly going to find themselves defending their target in considerably less.

“Generally when you are chasing, it always favours the team batting second,” he said. “We batted seven overs, they are not expecting a shortened game, so the pace that you go at, and losing two wickets, [changes things].

“Even with, around in my mind, when I was looking at 30, 35 overs, I was still feeling like if we get a score of 200, or 200-plus, I do feel there was enough in that wicket with our bowling attack, especially when playing Beuran today as well, an extra seamer.”

“But the further the game goes, the closer to a T20 game it becomes, the odds are heavily in their favour. So as it got a bit later in the day, then you’d rather get the point and go.”

Floyd Reifer, West Indies’ head coach, tempered his own disappointment at the washout, but conceded that his team – irrespective of their defeat against Australia last week – would have fancied their chances of inflicting further damage on their demoralised opponents.

“It was a good opportunity to play against them, like any other team in the competition,” Reifer said. “We are playing fearless cricket, so it doesn’t matter who we play. When we play them, we want to play the same brand of cricket that we are playing, what we executed in the past couple of games.

“It was a chase that we should have won,” he added of the Australia match, when they came up short in pursuit of 289. “We kind of made some mistakes at key points in the game and it happens in cricket, but you learn from it. I’m sure next time most guys will be in that position and will make better decisions.”

Either way, South Africa would all too readily swap positions in the group table with West Indies. However, du Plessis insisted it was too soon to start weighing up permutations in the fight for the top four, or to start wishing for certain teams to trip up to make their own requirement more manageable. The only thing that really matters, he said, is chalking up some overdue wins.

“It is too far away,” du Plessis said. “Right now, for us, we need to focus on our performance. If we can get our performance sorted out, our skills, our confidence back up where it needs to be, and start getting on a roll of two or three games, you can only really look at those things when it comes to the last week of the tournament.

“Naturally, when you are in a tournament like this, as the team at the bottom part of the log, you want the top team to keep winning to make sure there is a little bit of a breathing room for the other two or three teams, so you keep an eye on other results, maybe, in that aspect. But it’s obviously really out of our control.” (ESPNCricinfo)