Morris credits du Plessis' captaincy for South Africa revival
Turning a team's mood, mindset and match-day performances around can take months but Faf du Plessis was able to achieve that with his South African side in less than a week. Since returning to the squad following the birth of his first child, du Plessis has challenged, chastised and commiserated with his men following their Lord's defeat. And he has also inspired for them to fight a little harder just by doing that himself.
"It's quite easy for everyone to say how good Faf is," Chris Morris said. "It's just his character. He lives for playing for the Proteas and is what a Protea should be. He lives for the team and he leads by example. He puts his body on the line and he doesn't mind batting for three days to save a Test. When a guy leads from the front, a lot of guys will follow."
Though du Plessis only scored 19 runs before he was caught down the leg-side off a ball he wasn't quite sure he had hit, his management of his bowlers on the second afternoon spoke to the quality of his leadership. After seeing this first and second-changes seamers, Duanne Olivier and Morris, unable to find their rhythm early on, du Plessis asked the premier pacemen, particularly Morne Morkel, to do more work and then made sure he did not have Olivier and Morris at opposite ends at the same time again.
He trusted his spinner, Keshav Maharaj, to start the strangle and spoke to the other two quicks about how they could improve on their poor starts. "Faf is solid and quite clear with his plans and speaks a very good language with the team. He's an excellent leader," Morris said.
Today, Morris was the biggest beneficiary of that. His first three overs cost 20 runs but after a chat with du Plessis, his next 5.5 went for just 18 runs and he took three wickets. Although the wickets came at the end of the innings, after the other, more serious damage had been done, they also came because Morris had clearer instructions. "The message was clear from Faf: be aggressive and bowl fast. For me that cleared any doubt on what I needed to do," Morris said.
His post-lunch speeds were higher, he forced Liam Dawson into a loose drive that prompted an unsuccessful review, bluffed Moeen Ali with short balls before drawing him into a drive off a fuller one and then set up Stuart Broad, who was expecting a bouncer, with a full, straight ball that struck him on the pad. "That was a decision we made in the moment," Morris said, explaining how the Broad wicket came about.
Overall, South Africa made good use of seamer-friendly bowling conditions and an England approach that is angled towards attacking. "On this wicket, you are quite happy with guys coming at you. There is just enough in this wicket for fast bowlers to be excited, and with overhead conditions, with the ball swinging and the way the Duke moves around, we don't mind guys coming at us," Morris said. "Another day Joe [Root] is going to get 190, and another day he will get what he got today. It was a great counterpunch by Joe but we don't mind it."
Because the counterpunch did not work, South Africa will now, it seems, be able to dictate terms as they aim to square the series. And Morris is quite happy to let du Plessis be the dictator when it comes to knowing how many runs South Africa will need.
"800? I have got absolutely no idea," he said. "The wicket is playing a little bit. It's got a bit of juice in it. Whatever overhead conditions are… 200 could be enough on the right day. Obviously we'll try and bat as long as we can, and whatever decision Faf takes that we think will be possible to defend. That number, I don't know. It's my third Test. I just do the job and let the captain make the decision."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent