Mark Boucher knows as much about Faf du Plessis‘ future as a Test cricketer as we do, which is that du Plessis is under pressure. Asked directly if du Plessis is going to retire next week, Boucher said: “I’ve got no clue. He hasn’t said anything. I don’t think so.”
Du Plessis has not crossed fifty in his last nine innings, he has not even crossed 40. He has had to deal with a major administrative crisis that he admitted weighed him down. It’s little wonder he needed a shoulder rub during his innings at St George’s Park.
In what some are speculating could be his last Test innings, du Plessis faced 123 balls and spent two hours and 24 minutes, which, in other circumstances could be considered confidence-boosting. But when he was dismissed, the possibility of a four-day finish loomed, which is hardly the way a captain wants to take his team to the close of play. Given all the other challenges du Plessis is facing, it’s not unthinkable that it has all become too much, but Boucher hopes it hasn’t.
“It’s easy for me to sit here and say yes I am happy with his state of mind. For me, his state of mind will be a lot better if he gets up there and scores runs,” Boucher said. “We all know that he is under pressure in the media and from a confidence point of view.
“The positive for me is that he actually got out there, he gave himself a chance to have a look at the conditions and he looked like he got some good rhythm in a really tough situation. He got to face over 100 balls so he will sit back in the changeroom, look at the team situation and be disappointed in the performance today and in the Test match but I am sure he will take confidence from the fact that he got to spend time out there and face a few balls in the middle.”
Still, South Africa seemed to lack a certain impetus which seemed to suggest there is something bigger brewing. Boucher indicated there are problems behind-the-scenes, although he did not elaborate on what they might be. “There might have been a couple of things that added to the lacklustre performance today. We can’t get too emotional about it. We’ve got to go out there and say we need a lot of hard work in the future and that’s what we’ve got to do,” Boucher said.
Whether that relates to Kagiso Rabada’s suspension or the possibility of du Plessis’ impending exit is unclear. What is, is that the brief honeymoon period South Africa’s new management experienced at SuperSport Park is over and divorce proceedings are already being talked about in terms of the captain.
South Africa are staring down their seventh Test defeat from the last eight they’ve played. Though they would have experienced similar when up against the Australian side of the early 2000s, then there was depth in the system; now the options are severely limited. South Africa only have one available bowler who can send the speedgun above 150kph for the Wanderers Test, Anrich Nortje, their experienced opening batsman, Dean Elgar, is coming off his worst calendar year in 2019 and is trying to hold the fort in an inexperienced top six and their best bowler is a containing spinner, Keshav Maharaj.
Is this the lowest ebb since readmission? Boucher wouldn’t be drawn into that. “That’s a big call. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I have been in teams where we’ve been pretty low. Here, we are still in the series. We are in a bad situation in this particular game but we are not out of the series yet,” he said.
Instead, Boucher has taken it on himself to accept responsibility for the performances so far and to try and fix things as quickly as possible. “It’s easy to point fingers at this and that and our system. For me, there’s no excuses. I need to find a way to get it right in a short period of time,” Boucher said.
“I look at this as a time to self-reflect. I’m looking at myself and saying, ‘how do I take responsibility for the performance of the team and how do I try and mentally and physically upskill these guys to make them better players in a short space of time?'”