New Zealand v South Africa, 2nd Test, Wellington, 3rd day March 18, 2017

'Asked for real hard cricketers' - du Plessis


Morne Morkel, returning from injury, was as "tough as you could face" on the third day, said captain Faf du Plessis © Getty Images

At 1pm on Friday, South Africa were at risk of losing a Test. By 7pm on Saturday, they had won it. It took them just 30 hours to turn things around and they did it the full 360 degrees.

"It's happened a few times this season where we've been in impossible situations and then there's one or two guys putting their hand up and making the impossible very possible," Faf du Plessis said. "Lunch time yesterday felt like not too long ago, and now we've won a Test match so just that shift in pressure was really well handled."

South Africa were 104 for 6 at lunch on day two, with Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock, the last two recognised batsmen, at the crease. In a stand of 160, they took the score over 250 and put South Africa in the lead. Their fightback was underlined by self-assured batting that, even in the trickiest of situations, they stuck with. Bavuma was cautious and rode the bounce, while de Kock was aggressive. Together, they scored at a rate of 4.13 to give South Africa the advantage.

"We've found this ability to have a lot of faith in our batting line-up, whoever they are, to stand up to pressure situations. Quinton and Temba hadn't been in massive run-spells these last couple of games, so for both of them to do it at a critical time says a lot about them mentally," du Plessis said. "And it was the way they played [that was impressive]. To counter-punch and put the pressure on the opposition was remarkable."

An obdurate last-wicket stand of 57 tipped South Africa over 350 and gave them a match-winning lead, but they did not expect things to come so quickly on the third day. With the southerly wind slicing through the city, South Africa expected being on the field to be uncomfortable at best, impossible at worst.

"It was a challenge for us. What we asked for this morning was real hard cricketers. Mentally we needed to be very strong, to be ready to be challenged and pushed to extremes because it's not conditions we are used to. There were no excuses; the wind and the cold were never going to be excuses. Just real, hard Test cricket and that's what they produced."

Du Plessis lauded his spinners, particularly Keshav Maharaj, who took his second five-for in as many games © Getty Images

The seamers were rotated in short spells and they all seemed to find their rhythms unaffected. Vernon Philander was unlucky not to be rewarded for a probing effort and Kagiso Rabada had his pace up to the mid 140s again, but it was Morne Morkel's new-ball spell that broke New Zealand. He removed both Tom Latham and Kane Williamson, the man South Africa see as "a big threat in terms of holding that batting unit together," as du Plessis has consistently explained. "To get him cheaply obviously helps. We knew if we could get a few early ones we could really put them under pressure."

Morkel then had a third, Neil Broom. He completed a comeback that should see him retained as a certainty in the starting XI for the tour of England in July-August.

"It was a bit of a punt as he's been away from the game for so long. But I knew what I saw from him. Every time he's bowling, he's getting better. In the second innings he hardly bowled a bad ball. His consistency is there and he's getting his pace back up. Today with the new ball, [he] was as tough as you could face. I was standing in the slips and it looked nasty. A lot of bounce with good intensity and pace. When he's on like that, he's a real handful," du Plessis said.

By the time Morkel was done with New Zealand, he had opened them up for Keshav Maharaj, who surpassed all expectations with a second five-for in as many matches.

"It is surprising given the conditions - cold and not a lot of spin," du Plessis said. "But I thought both spinners bowled incredibly well. Their control and consistency meant the New Zealand batsmen just couldn't get away. Their run rates were very low. The pressure that created chances for wickets. When spinners are contributing like that, it makes the seamers' lives much easier, especially with us having to rotate the seamers quite often because we only have three."

The other spinner was JP Duminy, whose low returns with the bat were masked by the career-best 4 for 47 he took in the first innings. Du Plessis still thinks Duminy has an important part to play in South Africa's Test side, with both bat and ball, and hopes Hamilton will be the place where he proves that.

"What was really good for me was the way JP bowled in this match," du Plessis said. "That confidence from the bowling was something I was looking for. We gave him a little bit more responsibility and he got through it really well. He didn't score a hundred in the second innings but the way he played looked really good. It's the way he plays at his best with positive body language."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Lloyd on March 21, 2017, 12:56 GMT

    Now that Miller is making more runs in ODIs, I hope he can find a way into the test side.

  • thabzn1247572 on March 20, 2017, 19:31 GMT

    It's a huge pity that Stephen Cook didn't conquer NZ like James Cook, I'm sure he will play the next match unfortunately with JP which won't be great going forward

  • faghmie murat on March 20, 2017, 12:12 GMT

    my 11 would be kock.maharaj.piedt.philander.rabada.morkel. best team all condition. top six takes responsibilities. and 3 bowling allrounders . that can whack runs easily

  • Brokensaint on March 19, 2017, 20:11 GMT

    love that team shongololo. yeah cilchrist could score a ton batting at 100 but you know what they say winners don't make excuses. it says it all really

  • Brokensaint on March 19, 2017, 17:02 GMT

    miller himself credited his current form on being dropped a while ago. yet here we are 9 years down the line with nothing to show for duminys talent.

  • Bazza on March 19, 2017, 9:54 GMT

    @cricmj makes.... Yeah great... 4 wickets 3 catches.... Now DIVIDE that by 10 as he only does it every 10 games or so then does enough to justify weak excuses for (mistakenly) picking him again. How come QDK and Van Zyl were dropped after low 30s averages?? At 33 years old(and average) most pkayers who know theyre arent performing anymore have the dignity and class to say Ive had enough!

  • Paul on March 19, 2017, 9:49 GMT

    South Africa side for Third Test - Elgar, Amla, de Bruyn, du Plessis, Bavuma, de Kock, Parnell (only because he's over there), Philander, Maharaj, Rabada, Morkel

  • davecm4459057 on March 19, 2017, 7:26 GMT

    South Africa has a strong Test team. Sure there a couple of players about whose inclusion there is a debate (Cook and Duminy) but that is normal for any team. But a stable core team with cover in just about all departments is what you need for a successful Test side.

  • Paul on March 19, 2017, 5:36 GMT

    Agree, Brokensaint...this nonsense about his spot in the order being the reason for his decade of mediocrity is laughable. Damien Martyn, Adam Gilchrist, hell Steve Waugh too, all batted down the order and had averages way, way ahead of JP's. There are countless others but I can't be bothered to delve onto it. Can't we all just accept that hugely talented though he is, JP Duminy has been underwhelming...and is a very, very lucky boy to still be in the mix.

  • Brokensaint on March 19, 2017, 5:06 GMT

    Keith yes but de kock has almost a average of 50 batting at 7 so where is the issues. do you see de kock running around making excuses.

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