Proteas play their first day-night test match with a pink ball
As attention shifts from the ridiculous ball-tampering charges laid against Faf du Plessis and on to the third and final Test between the Standard Bank Proteas and Australia in Adelaide from Thursday, it is the South Africans who will be approaching the game as the team in charge.
This is despite the furore over Du Plessis eating a sweet and shining the ball with his saliva, two things which are entirely legal but which the International Cricket Council have now decided cannot be done at the same time, and the fact that the Proteas are entering into unknown territory as they play their first day/night Test, with a pink ball.
Australia, who have more experience of the pink ball, were no doubt hoping that the Adelaide game would be shaping up as the series decider, but instead it will be their last-chance saloon as their new-look team desperately tries to avoid going down in history as their first side to ever be whitewashed in a Test series (of at least three matches) at home.
However unpleasant the manufactured outrage has been in Australia over the last week, the fact remains that the Proteas have already won the series in convincing fashion and certainly have the wood on their opponents, having won their last seven meetings this year and having made history by completing a third successive Test series triumph in Australia.
South Africa are in the wonderful position of being able to gently massage their selection and perhaps the only change they will make is to bring in wrist-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi. Australian batsmen have struggled to read his variations and apparently the poor visibility of the seam on the pink balls will make this even harder.
South Africa’s arch-enemies are in disarray and they have chosen four potential debutants in the most drastic reshuffling of their Test side in more than 30 years. There are six changes in all to the squad with opener Matt Renshaw, Peter Handscomb and Nic Maddinson the new batsmen, swing bowler Chadd Sayers and the lanky Jackson Bird chosen to boost the attack and a new wicketkeeper/batsman in the recalled Matthew Wade.
Having, reluctantly at first, accepted Cricket Australia’s proposal to play a day/night Test, the Proteas are in the fortunate position of having nothing to lose.
And a massive amount to gain if they can become the first team to whitewash Australia 3-0 on home soil.
“We are the first South African team to play a day/night Test match in Adelaide, we have a great opportunity to beat Australia 3-0 for the first time in their history at home. That is what our focus is on at the moment, we are not too concerned whether it’s pink, white or red, we want to play the Test match,” coach Russell Domingo said.
The storms which have buffeted the Proteas this week have undoubtedly galvanised their desire to complete a 3-0 win and brought them even closer together as a team. It was a sense of team unity which was so evident in their previous wins over Australia, so the home side can expect no reduction in the amount of pressure exerted on them.
Du Plessis, in between continuing to proclaim his innocence, was aware of the opportunity his side has to make history.
"It’s a very important game. You want to be part of creating history.
We've played some really good cricket and we've got something going. I don't know how many pink-ball Tests will be played. This could be our first or last," he said.
Last season’s Adelaide day/night Test between Australia and New Zealand was over in three days, thanks mainly to the healthy grass covering that was left on the pitch in order to preserve the fragile pink ball. But groundsman Damian Hough said in the build-up to this week’s match that he was going to take an extra two millimetres off on this occasion.
Whatever the conditions, the Standard Bank Proteas have accepted and overcome every challenge on this daunting tour and they will be desperate to finish on a high note. They will continue to rely on the good old-fashioned disciplines of Test cricket and the smart money must be on them.