If Australia are to leave Zimbabwe with a tri-series trophy in their cabinet, they are going to have to get past an apparently indomitable obstacle in Faf du Plessis. South Africa’s No.3 is in the form of his career, having racked up 368 runs, including three centuries at close to a run a ball in this series. Had he not trod on his stumps when he had 121 on Thursday, he may well have passed 400 runs before the final. Aaron Finch and Mitchell Marsh, Australia’s leading run scorers, have accumulated 196 and 195 runs, respectively.
“When he’s batting as well as he is, he doesn’t give you that many clues as to how to get him out,” George Bailey, Australia’s stand-in captain, said. “He is obviously in wonderful nick. We’ve got a couple of ways we hope we can try to contain him and, like anyone starting an innings, there’s always a chance to be dismissed. I guess the old cricket adage is that he’s due to miss out isn’t he? So hopefully that comes true.”
Australia’s task of getting past du Plessis will be made a little more complicated by the fact that Saturday’s final will be played on a fresh pitch that has not been used in any of the six games so far. Australia had a look at the surface at their training session on Friday afternoon, and though it should have some life in it, neither Bailey nor the groundsman seemed entirely sure how it would play.
“It is a new pitch, it’s an interesting looking pitch and I’ve never been particularly good at judging them at the best of times,” Bailey said. “But that one sort of looks like a little bit of everything. It looks like it might seam a little bit, it looks like it might spin a little bit, and it looks like there might be a few runs in it. So I’m going to have to ask somebody else, because I’ve really got no idea.
“What the groundsmen have told us is that as you get closer to the center, the wickets do get quicker and bounce a little more, but the groundsman was very vague when I asked him about what he thought it was going to do, so really not sure. I can’t imagine it would be any different to what we’ve had throughout the series.”
Aside from their loss to Zimbabwe last Sunday, this has been a reasonably successful trip for Australia. They’re 1-1 with South Africa going into the final, and appear to have unearthed a reliable all-round option in Marsh. Australia will also have one eye on getting their XI right ahead of the World Cup next year, but more immediately, the spin-friendly conditions in Zimbabwe may well be the ideal preparation for their next engagement, against Pakistan in the UAE next month.
“It’s been great to see the development and a couple more games for guys like Mitch Marsh and Kane Richardson. It’s good to see Phil Hughes back in the side,” Bailey said. “I think Steven Smith has looked good in different roles within the team as well. There are some young guys coming through and stepping up in some challenging conditions, which is always great to learn from and to adapt to. In some ways, it’s a little bit like the subcontinent in some of the challenges you face in terms of the spin and whatnot, so that’s always good to learn from.”
Australia will play a T20I, three ODIs and two Tests against Pakistan in UAE. Their last international trip to UAE was in September 2012, while in April this year, several IPL matches took place there, so they will have some experience of the conditions – though not at the exact time of year that they are due to play.
“The UAE is really interesting. Depending on the time of year I think you can get quite different wickets. Certainly the last time we were there they were reasonably good batting wickets with a little bit of spin, and dew was a really important factor.
“It was really challenging to overcome. It’s almost like you’d played after a monsoon or something, the grass was that wet on the outfield. And then during the IPL, playing games in the UAE, the ball tended to do a little bit, but once again a really nice batting wicket. So I’m not really sure what to expect there.
“But one of the great things about playing in different parts of the world, is that challenge of having to adapt really quickly to conditions. The pleasing thing from the loss to Zimbabwe to the game against South Africa, was what we learnt from that game and how we were able to put those things that we talked about putting into place for the next game. Ideally in a final you want to go that one step further and play your best game of the tournament.”