Cape Town: South African skipper Faf du Plessis ratcheted up the rhetoric on the eve of the much-anticipated opening Test against India, saying they have a "score to settle" with the World No. 1.
He talked about the 3-0 loss in 2015 away to India, highlighting that the Proteas are keen to even the score. The three-match series begins here tomorrow with the first Test. "I don't know when the next Test series against India is, but it's probably the last time all of us (senior players) play against India and there's no better way than playing a series in South Africa. We were disappointed the last time we went there and we've got a score to settle, so we're excited for this series," he added.
Du Plessis said that the Newlands' green-top wicket gives South Africa an advantage going into the first Test. "I like the fact that there is some sort of preference that we can try to get an advantage. I think the groundsman has done a fantastic job with the heat. The wicket looks good. It looks like it's going to be exactly what we wanted."
Du Plessis downplayed rivalry with Virat Kohli or any other Indian player for that matter, and outlined that South Africa instead intend to target the entire playing eleven to get the desired result. "Obviously Virat is a very good player. His stats don't lie. We are hoping we can put some pressure on him. If we can keep him quiet, we have a much better chance. But I see it as South Africa against India, I don't see a rivalry between us.
"We don't look at Virat alone. He doesn't get more time than any of the other Indian batsmen," du Plessis signed off. Du Plessis is returning from injury and sat out the day- night Test against Zimbabwe. South Africa also have AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn to consider, both of whom are returning to Test cricket after long lay-offs.
De Villiers led against Zimbabwe in du Plessis' absence, but is not a confirmed starter for the first Test. Steyn's exclusion cannot be ruled out either in case South Africa opt for only three pacers. "It was frustrating at times. It's 11 weeks now and I just feel now like I'm ready to play. Obviously time at home is nice, and the good thing is I didn't miss much cricket for South Africa.
"I'm extremely hungry to play again. I would have liked to play against Zimbabwe but the batting feels good and hopefully I can take off from here," said the skipper.
"This selection is probably one of the hardest that we are going to have to make. There are just so many combinations you can look at. It's a nice headache to have, a possibility to play four seamers but we're still talking about what could be our strongest eleven," he added.
When asked specifically about Steyn's possible inclusion, he replied, "It's a tough call. For me, he is the best bowler in the world. He hasn't played for a while and he hasn't got the overs under his legs that he would have wanted. "But facing Dale in the nets, the skill feels like it hasn't gone anywhere. He has got the same pace, and the same swing. Skill-wise it's like he has just jumped back on that bicycle and is riding again."
Even with the sun beating down at Newlands, the pitch retained its green hue and it could be a crucial factor in the hosts fielding three or four pacers in their line-up. The South African captain stressed that they have options to cater to conditions irrespective of where they are playing. "In a perfect world it will be a quick wicket that nips around a bit. We also want to try and eliminate spin as much as possible. When we played Sri Lanka here last time, it was a really good wicket.
"You don't want excessive seam movement because that brings both bowling attacks into the game. We feel with our seam resources, on a wicket that has some pace and bounce, we can exploit some of those areas in their batting line." India's last tour in South Africa ended in a 1-0 loss for the visitors.
"I think with the make-up of our squad we have so many different options you can look at picking a different team for different venues. That's our thinking. We will make the team decision we believe is the best specifically for Newlands."
This series also marks the top-two ranked sides in ICC Test ranking coming together. India will not lose their no.1 ranking even with a 3-0 defeat, but according to du Plessis, that score-line is easier said than done. "It's good that we can have some importance to this series. Big series are why you play. We don't have an Ashes so it's good to see that India versus South Africa can start becoming a really big series.
"There are some really high-class players that are going to bash it out over the next four weeks. So that's exciting."...