Had a gut feel to bowl Tahir upfront - du Plessis
Faf du Plessis hailed South Africa's attack for putting in what he considered one of their best bowling efforts in T20 cricket, to seal a series win over India with a game to spare in Cuttack. "It was amazing to see," du Plessis said. Many would agree.
Before this game, South Africa had bowled out opposition teams for under 100 only four times in T20 cricket, and only twice was that opposition a Test-playing team. Scotland, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and New Zealand have been dismissed for 81, 80, 86 and 96 respectively. Now India have been added to that list and their scalp will be the most celebrated.
Not only did South Africa bundle India out for a total far below what is considered a good benchmark in this format, they did it in India in conditions the home side should have had the better of. South Africa adapted to the cracked, slow surface and a combination of aggression from Kagiso Rabada, pace from Chris Morris, discipline from Albie Morkel and some magic from Imran Tahir did the job.
Tahir's two wickets in the 13th over - including that of Suresh Raina - broke the back of India's innings but it was his role in opening the bowling that caught attention, especially as using a spinner early in an innings is not the South African way.
"I suppose it was a gut feel to try and use Immi upfront," du Plessis said. "He hasn't bowled in the PowerPlay but it was just a case of changing things up and trying to be unpredictable, so the batsmen can't plan ahead."
"I thought there was great variation in those first six overs. There was spin, there was pace and then we got wickets. Obviously there were two great run-outs as well but the key is to get wickets upfront. Our bowlers did that today. And then the guys coming in after six overs kept trying to do that as well."
Du Plessis deserves some of the credit as well. He managed his bowlers creatively - using Rabada's four overs in a single spell, rotating Abbott and Morris, and calling on Albie's experience just when it seemed India might be able to claw their way back. Du Plessis is establishing himself as an astute captain, something he explained he has been learning through association with none other than the opposition captain, with whom he shared a dressing room in the IPL while playing for Chennai Super Kings.
"I played with MS when I just started captaining and as a young leader, you look at where you can learn from more experienced leaders. At the time, Dhoni was there and also Stephen Fleming," du Plessis said. "What you do is try and see what works for them but the most important thing is that you don't try and copy someone else. You need to be your own leader. You need to know what works for you. By getting through that process, you learn from making mistakes and doing things your way, trying a few other things and then you get to a stage in your career where you have your own identity as a captain."
In IPL 2015, Super Kings were awash with senior players, which allowed du Plessis to essentially crowd source different ideas from a quartet of captains around him. "At Chennai we've got very good leaders. This year we had Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Bravo, myself, Fleming and Dhoni. When you have a brains trust, you can only learn," he said. "It was great with the conversations we had. MS leads the team always but there are good contributions from us in terms of input. Also, Graeme Smith has been a great leader for South Africa. So in the early parts of captaining, he was a person I learnt a lot from."
All that knowledge is starting to show. With the World T20 in India next year, Du Plessis has now led South Africa to two T20 series wins in their last three outings and both have come in the subcontinent. While the ODI side remains a team in transition, the T20 side is starting to appear settled and has, this time, set the tone for what du Plessis hopes will continue to be a successful tour of India.
"The way you start is important. If we'd started with a couple of losses, it would have been hard to pull ourselves back up, especially with the conditions. When India is on top, they play really well," he said. "It was really important for us as a T20 side to start well because we are the team that is starting the tour off. To be 2-0 up against India in India is a big achievement for us and we are really proud of that."