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Du Plessis keen to bat deep to tackle tricky surface

South Africa aims to adapt quickly to varying conditions, while Sammy wants West Indies to keep it simple

25 March 2016 14:54 By Saurabh Somani, Nagpur

Since its Test loss in the city four months ago in November 2015, South Africa would have kept a wary eye on the Nagpur pitch. Officials have ensured that the surface for the team's ICC World T20 2016 clash is a batting-friendly one, but it’s only on match-day on Friday (March 25), that the true nature of the 22 yards will be known.

The switching of the pitches certainly took Faf du Plessis, the South Africa captain, by surprise. “When we got here, on the first day of practice the wicket was very dry and we just prepared ourselves accordingly to play on it,” said du Plessis on match eve. “Obviously it’s changed a bit now, we’re not playing on the same wicket. They’ve changed the strip. But whether it was changed or not, it wouldn’t have made too much difference to us. I assume the reason they’re changing it is to not be as dry, or not to spin as much as it possibly could have on that dry surface. But it’s still two teams competing and possibly going to be a spinning deck, so I don’t think too much will change.”

South Africa will be coming into this match after having played on a very flat Wankhede Stadium track. West Indies too played its first match at the Wankhede, but got a taste of more bowler-friendly conditions in its second match against Sri Lanka in Bangalore.

Du Plessis admitted that he had expected more batting-friendly tracks throughout the World Twenty20 venues, and was surprised at the amount of help bowlers had at various venues. “To be honest, I didn’t expect it to be like this. Obviously playing a lot of IPL cricket for years now, I’ve found that wickets in IPL have generally been quite good and consistent,” he offered. “Barring one or two games through the IPL, you generally get similar runs on the board right through all the venues. This World Cup, it’s been a little different. There’s been almost both extremes, where we’ve had massive spinning wickets and real flat decks. So that will obviously produce some different quality of cricket, but it’s not something I expected and certainly it’s not something I’m used to from these conditions. But as I said, as a team, it’s important that whatever the conditions, you have to be able to adapt. If you lose a game, you’re not going to get the game back by complaining about the wicket. You have to try and make do with what you get.”

One of the ways in which du Plessis said the South Africans will deal with surfaces that offer more is ‘smart’ cricket by the top order, and asking the lower order to step up on the batting front.

“I’ve always been a fan of a long batting line-up. Definitely on wickets like this. This is when it really matters,” emphasised du Plessis. “I believe the longer and stronger your batting line-up is, that’s when games go to the crunch. If you look at all the games played on surfaces like this, it’s the No. 7,8,9 that get you over the line or fall short. You can go right through all the games that have been played on these wickets. That’s something I’ve been building in this team for a while, to make sure we’ve got a long batting line-up. I do think that on wickets like Mumbai, you possibly don’t need that. You can possibly load your bowling a bit stronger, because if you play ten games there, you’ll probably only need the No.8 two or three times. Whereas in conditions like this, I do think that batting strength is key.

“We do rely as a team on being smart and to make the correct decisions on whatever the surface is on the day,” he continued. “I think if you consistently prepare for those sort of scenarios, where you need to adapt everyday and you don’t just rely on one game plan and one specific batsman to come off, that’s all you can do. As a team we do that very well, especially as a batting unit we adapt quickly and we’re smart in our decision making. If it’s going to be a slow Bunsen burner, then we have to make the transition quicker than the West Indian team. Obviously they are a power-hitting team, so they realise their strength and also their weakness. But for us it’s about being the smartest ones on the day.”

For Darren Sammy and his West Indies team, the pitch didn’t hold too many worries, and the West Indies captain reiterated that sticking to a simple game plan would be the way his team would approach the match. “The pitch that we are going to play on has been covered yesterday and today. I spoke to the groundsman and he gave us a little bit of information about what to expect,” said Sammy.

“Yes we respect the opposition and plan for them but we are more focused on what the West Indies T20 team could do. I’ve said it many times, once we do what we do well, we are a force to reckon with. We are very destructive. Someone at the top of the order has carried their bat throughout. We’ve also being bowling well. On a pitch in Mumbai where the average score on that day was probably 200, we restricted the team to 180. In Bangalore too we bowled really well. We’ve been doing the basics right and in T20, it’s about entertaining and keeping it simple.”