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'Feels very similar to Australia tour' - du Plessis

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Duminy will have to decide his future - du Plessis (2:03)

Faf du Plessis spoke about the Test future of JP Duminy and said that although competition is strong, he still has a future in the side provided he wants to return. (2:03)

Professional sportsmen claim the media serves mostly as a distraction, so they try to avoid it, especially mid-series. But for South Africa, the English press has been a barometer to measure how far under the opposition's skin they are getting. If the reaction from Trent Bridge is anything to go by, they've burrowed deep into England's epidermis.

The immediate analysis focused on England's batting issues, with several former players slamming their attacking approach. In the days since, everything from Joe Root's captaincy, which is only two Tests old, to the mindgames England have had to play with Moeen Ali, which essentially involve convincing him he is not the best spinner in the squad even though it is obvious that he is, have come under the microscope. For Faf du Plessis, that only helps put the hosts under pressure, in much the same way as the Australian media did during South Africa's tour in November 2016.

"The situation feels very similar to Australia," du Plessis said. "After the first game in Australia when we beat them, there was quite a bit of press against the Australian cricket team and then we stepped our game up even more in the second Test and then after that, it was a free for all. You could see the Australian team were feeling a bit of pressure."

Cries of a crisis dominated headlines in Australia after South Africa bounced back from losing Dale Steyn to a broken shoulder on the first day of the first Test in Perth - eventually winning that Test - and then handed Australia a hiding in Hobart. With the series lost, Australia's then selection-chief Rod Marsh stepped down. England are not at the same tipping point, especially as they give new captain Root the leeway to let his leadership style settle. But, the questions over which direction the Test team is headed in under Trevor Bayliss will mount.

Knowing that kind of angst is also hovering around England gives South Africa a vulnerability to try and exploit. "All teams don't want to feel the pressure and you do feel the pressure when you don't play your best cricket, that's part of the game," du Plessis said. "The England cricket team will be the first to say that they will accept criticism from the last Test match and they will try and brush it off straightaway and start a new game fresh and play some good cricket. And we will certainly try and make use of pressure wherever we can."

Exactly how South Africa will look to use the current uncertainties in the England camp is a detail du Plessis will keep to himself, but using the recent past as an indicator suggests that they will rely on their unity to force the opposition to question themselves. In the last season, South Africa have several members of the squad step up - rather one or two standout performers - and the absence of superstars like AB de Villiers and Steyn caused no hindrance, as predicted. It may even have helped South Africa because these days, despite having only lost one series on the road in ten years between 2006 and 2016, South Africa go into big contests under-rated. And that suits du Plessis just fine.

"We don't always have the names that we used to have and that is how I see our team's strength. Our focus is on every guy in the team playing a small role to get us over the line. We've never wanted to rely on big names," he said. "You get players that are consistent and put in big performances but if you look at our last year and a half or so of Test cricket, there's been unsung heroes all the time that have stepped up and made plays for the team when we most wanted them to. I will be very happy to keep being the under-rated team and by making sure that if we keep putting in small performances, we put pressure on the big, strong teams around the world."

In Perth, it was Kagiso Rabada and Keshav Maharaj who picked up Steyn's load. In Hobart, it was Vernon Philander and Kyle Abbott. In Wellington, Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma shared in a series-winning partnership and in Nottingham, runs from Hashim Amla, an all-round effort from Philander and crucial contributions from the likes of de Kock, Maharaj and Chris Morris allowed South Africa to level the series. They're now in prime position to take the lead and set themselves up for another away win, a result that would further accelerate du Plessis' vision of the team he wants to create.

"When I took over, it was at a time of real darkness as a Test team and I had a vision of where I wanted us to go, and a blueprint for getting there. But getting there doesn't always happen, you have to be patient and wait for it to unfold. Luckily things happened a lot quicker than I thought it would," he said. "We've won every series that we've played, it's been a good year for the team and for my captaincy."

Du Plessis first led South Africa in August 2016, when they were ranked No.7. Under him, they have climbed to No.2 in less than a year. In that time, their only major gripe has been that none of their batsmen have scored big runs consistently, and that continues to be a challenge in this series. South Africa don't have a centurion, but England only have one and conditions have not lent themselves to excessive scoring. Du Plessis would like to see that change but isn't labouring the point, because he knows the media can do that for him.

"The conditions that we've been playing in haven't been massive for scoring big runs.I'm not concerned, it's a case of trusting yourself, of backing yourself, because if you keep talking too much about it, it can I suppose derail you from keeping it really simple," he said. "We know as a batting unit that we need to do it, and if someone gets an opportunity to score runs they just need to be hungry that's all I can ask for. If you're hungry to make big plays for the team then the hundreds will come."