Faf du Plessis scored a half century in the first innings in Vizag.
Finding the right balance between attack and defence while batting against the spinners is the key to success in the subcontinent, feels Faf du Plessis. Speaking ahead of the second Test against India in Pune, the South Africa captain stressed that it is important for batting teams to not get into a shell against the Indian spin duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja and instead shift the pressure back onto them at some stage with an attacking intent.
South Africa made quite an impression in the opening Test despite losing it by 203 runs. In the first innings, du Plessis chipped in with a half-century while Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock registered tons as the visitors amassed 431 runs. "I think the first innings for me was possibly the difference with us from 2015," du Plessis highlighted. "You try and survive on Indian spinning conditions and with that you can become too defensive and allow the opposition to be on top the whole time. There needs to be a good combination of positive play, element of taking risks at some stage of the game to transfer the pressure on the bowling team.
"And the record speak for themselves. Specially on the spin bowling front, the two of them [Ashwin and Jadeja] have done really well in India, so you've try and put some pressure back on them. Otherwise they'll just bowl good balls all day long and one of those balls will have your name on it. The balance between attack and defence is important in the subcontinent."
Apart from the two spinners, du Plessis was also impressed with Mohammed Shami's second innings performance that saw him use reverse swing to good effect and pick up five wickets, with the timber disturbed on four of those occasions. "I felt that he bowled a bit quicker than he did in the first innings," du Plessis said. "Therefore obviously things happened a little bit quicker off the pitch. It was a day five wicket so he had that in his favour, but there's a huge intensity about his bowling. You're going to bowl short spells in the heat, but when you bowl you've to ensure you bowl with a lot of intensity and maximise it. And just learning from the lengths that he bowled.
"He's a guy that hits the stumps a lot, that's something from a bowling point of view we've to make sure we're better at. In the first innings specially, we bowled wide and therefore they scored frequently square of the wicket. So there's a lot of lessons to learn. I spoke to one of our young bowlers too and said to him that it's a good learning opportunity for you to sit and watch what someone does when they're on top of their home conditions. Just learn from his angles of the crease, how does he reverse the ball."
With little time between the two Test matches, du Plessis admitted that it was vital to trust the work they had put in before the series began instead of trying to work on something new now. With more purchase for the spinners expected compared to the first Test, the task only gets harder. The last time a Test match was played at this venue, it got over in just three days with Australia upsetting India.
"With the Test championship, it has changed," he pointed out on the possibility of a minefield. "Even in South Africa if you have a below average pitch and you probably got a warning. Whereas now you're deducted points. From the home conditions point of view, I think it is not as obvious as making wickets like the one in 2015. I know knowing Indian conditions, the turf is a little more red so I expect the ball to spin a little more than the first Test."
Reflecting further on the Test Championship, the 35-year-old highlighted the value of continuing to win at home and remarked that no Test will be classified as a dead rubber with plenty of points to play for. "You get 120 points for two wins and then you play a five-match series, then you've to win 5-0 which is a lot harder than winning 2-0," du Plessis said. "But I've noticed with these things, you'll always find holes and flaws. It's never a perfect system. So for us it's just about being the first who is going through this journey now with the Test championship.
"I think home games are going to be really important. We knew while coming here that India will always be a tough place to play, but you've got to make sure you get your points at home especially. The nice thing now is that now your test matches where your team is already 2-0 up or something like that, that third test match in the past you've probably giving one or two young guys an opportunity... while now every test match you play is important over the two -year period. So every test match has a lot of value."
Personally for du Plessis, there is familiarity with Pune. He has played IPL games at this venue for Rising Pune Supergiant and for the Chennai Super Kings in the past. "It does feel like you know a lot but obviously playing a T20 game out there, the pitch is probably a little bit different," he observed. "It doesn't spin much here when you play T20. It's a good batting wicket. But it's a nice stadium here, it's a good city to come to. The temperature's a little bit better. The guys are all positive. From a personal point of view, it's nice walking into the dressing room and there's a familiarity about it. You remember where you sat the last time you played here. You remember the innings that you played here. It's all positive and it makes one feel at home."