'Australia will try and target me'- du Plessis
Faf du Plessis is bracing himself to be one of the men with a bulls-eye on his back for the upcoming Test series against Australia. With it all but confirmed that du Plessis will bat at No.4, in what used to be Jacques Kallis' spot, he believes that the Australian pack will aim specifically at him because of his new responsibility.
"The one thing the Australians do really well is that target guys," du Plessis said after the first day of South Africa's practice match against a Composite XI. "They will probably target Graeme because he is the captain, and I thought they did that really well with Alastair Cook, and then look at other guys. Like myself. I am going to be a new role so they may want to target that."
Peter Siddle already explained Smith will be one of the pillars they want to send crashing and du Plessis may have given Australia an idea of who the other can be. Their memory of him is of Adelaide, where he batted for almost eight hours and tired their attack, to secure a draw which South Africa described as providing the morale for them to win the series.
Going after a man who showed such defiance may prove difficult, but du Plessis is wary that Australia may aim to do that, in order to try and break South Africa at one of their strongest points. So, he is planning to keep his game plan as "tight," as possible and not to give Australia a sniff that they could use to get through him.
"I am just going to be very patient and wait for mistakes from the bowlers. When you bat up the order you have to stay in your bubble a little bit longer," du Plessis explained. Although he has not batted at No.4 too often for South Africa, on the occasions when he has done it, such as against India at the Wanderers last December, he has gone on to score big. "I think I play at my best when I am being patient," he said.
Du Plessis demonstrated some of that in the tour match. He came in with South Africa stuttering on 46 for 2 and saw them slip into even deeper trouble at 51 for 3. With JP Duminy, he ushered them to some safety. Du Plessis batted for over two hours and faced 83 balls, including some quick ones from Wayne Parnell, to score 36. He enjoyed the battle in challenging conditions.
"The wicket was tough to bat on early on and usually we would not choose to bat first, we'd let our bowlers go in and exploit the conditions but because we're in preparation, we wanted to ourselves," he said. "There was a lot of movement and tennis-ball type bounce."
Later in the afternoon, when the sun came out, batting became easier but this time, du Plessis had not lasted long enough to cash in. He was dismissed when he offered a return catch to offspinner Simon Harmer, and it was up to the tail to take South Africa to 300.
Vernon Philander, in particular, stood out for his ability to bat the team out of trouble at a good rate. "Vernon has been batting beautifully for us for the last year or so. He has really put his peg in the ground as a proper allrounder," du Plessis said. "If you look at all those lower-order guys, they are at their best when they are looking to score. So their job is to be nice and positive."
The batsmen at the bottom could also end up being specific targets, because du Plessis isolated them as having a deciding role to play in this series. "No. 7 to 11 will play a crucial part for both teams," he said. "Australia also bat deep so I think that will play a big role in this series."
His analysis fits in well with the way the contest has been hyped up - as a battle of the bowlers, with all indications suggesting that it will be tough for the batsmen. Du Plessis endorsed that notion, predicting a spicy Centurion pitch for next week's opener. "We've done well at home on wickets that have assisted the bowlers and been quite difficult to bat on, especially with the new ball," du Plessis said. "But if we get a flat wicket, then that could assist Australia, because they are quite attacking in their strokeplay."
SuperSport Park has often given South Africa's quicks exactly what they want and with Dale Steyn ready to fire after a rib injury, there's no reason to believe it won't do so again. Steyn bowled just three overs on the first day of the tour match and will increase his load as game day draws nearer. "Dale was at about 60% today, off half a run-up, just to get back into it," du Plessis said. "You'll see over the next few days, he'll be stepping it up." No doubt, Steyn has his own targets in mind come next Wednesday.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent