Du Plessis urges more discipline from South Africa bowlers
After 649 runs were scored at a rate of 7.77 to the over in the first ODI between South Africa and England in Bloemfontein, few would argue with Faf du Plessis' assertion that "this series will be a series of the batting line-ups". But there is more to the towering totals than aggressive approaches on flat pitches. The new faces in both attacks have also played their part in the run-fest.
"Both bowling line-ups are not as experienced as they would like to be but the batting line-ups are explosive and you've got a lot of match-winners in both teams," du Plessis said, referring specifically to the depth of England's line-up. "It's definitely not nice when you do your pre-match planning because every guy that you look at seems to be a good batter. It's obviously why they are a stronger team now: they have got a better batting line-up."
All of England's top six scored runs on Wednesday and all, except Joe Root, maintained strike rates of over 100, helped by wayward bowling from South Africa's new-look pace pack. The opening bowlers, Chris Morris and Marchant de Lange, had only played 11 ODIs between them before the Bloemfontein game and their inexperience showed. They bowled both sides of the wicket in their first spells and could not find the right length, but got tighter as the innings wore on.
AB de Villiers did not want to be too hard on them but du Plessis was willing to point out where they want wrong. "It was a good batting wicket but I felt we did make a lot of mistakes. We gave a lot of boundaries away. We were not as disciplined as we would want to be," he said.
As a result, South Africa's other wicket-taking option, Imran Tahir, was forced into a role that did not make best use of his attacking skills. "For Immi to do really well, he doesn't have to feel he has to have all the pressure on his shoulders to be a game-changer. In T20 cricket when he can just express himself, come on and do his tricks, that's when he is best. I suppose any leggie is like that," du Plessis said. "If he is just bowling defensively, like he had to do in Bloemfontein, it takes away all that armoury that he has got."
To ensure Tahir can concentrate on controlling the middle overs, du Plessis explained that South Africa's seamers need to start better, especially in Port Elizabeth where the slower surface almost guarantees Tahir will be a factor. "Our bowlers need to be smarter. It's important to try and do that from the beginning and not wake up 10 or 15 overs into the game. The smarter team on the day will win the game," du Plessis said.
South Africa will be bolstered by the likely return of Kyle Abbott, whose hamstring niggle healed sooner than expected and he should be able to provide some control. "Something we have missed this whole series is experience, Although Kyle is not a guy who has played 100 ODIs, he is someone who has played a little bit more. Kyle brings a bit of consistency. With someone like that you just know when pressure situations present himself, he will be a bit more equipped than someone playing their first few games," du Plessis said.
Abbott's career is only 20 ODIs old but, as he showed at the 2015 World Cup where he had the lowest economy rate among South Africa's bowlers, accuracy is his strength.
That does not mean South Africa's batsmen are off the hook. Du Plessis stressed the importance of showing the same care with the bat as with the ball on a surface that will test both line-ups more than Bloemfontein did. "The pitch will be slower. We can't play the same style of cricket. We have to think faster on our feet," he said, and that applies to himself as well.
Du Plessis found some form in the 50-over game after struggling in Tests and feels a big score is, as clichéd as it sounds, just around the corner. "Things started changing slowly towards the end of the Test series for me. I was unhappy to not have played that last Test match and to have scored runs in the first ODI was very nice. I feel a lot better in the nets. I feel like I am hitting the ball as well as I can," he said. "I would still like to turn those fifties into bigger scores. I've been getting a lot of fifties in the last year or two but not as many hundreds as I would like. For me it's about turning that good performance into a performance that can make the team win."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent