Faf Du Plessis. Picture: AFP
Faf Du Plessis. Picture: AFP

London — Faf du Plessis has acknowledged that SA face the most challenging beginning to the World Test Championship (WCT) of all teams taking part.

His team’s first engagement will be a series in India in October‚ followed by a home rubber against England in December — the same schedule that played out badly for SA four seasons ago.

“We probably have the toughest start‚” Du Plessis was quoted as saying in a Cricket SA release on Tuesday. “But everyone will play everyone‚ so it doesn’t really matter.”

India are deservedly the No 1-ranked team while England won the World Cup earlier in July — a triumph that‚ albeit arguably undeservedly‚ has revitalised the game from top to bottom in the country.

How the English pitch up in SA in December will depend on their performance in the Ashes‚ which starts on Thursday‚ and their two-match series in New Zealand in November and December.

But there is doubt about the pitches SA will encounter in India: they will be difficult to bat on‚ perhaps to an unfair degree.

That is what happened in their last series there‚ in November 2015‚ when the Indians’ reaction to losing both white-ball rubbers was to prepare pitches for the Tests that favoured their team to an outrageous degree.

So much so that the surface for the third Test in Nagpur was damned as “poor” by the International Cricket Council. SA limped home with a 3-0 hiding to face England‚ who beat them 2-1.

Nonetheless‚ Du Plessis welcomed the establishment of the WCT‚ calling it “something new and quite exciting for this format”.

“For the last while we have longed to have something to play for that gives proper context to Test cricket‚” he said.

“The Proteas have had some cracking contests in bilateral series over the past couple of years‚ and going forward the stakes are high because every series matters over a period of two years with it culminating in a final at Lord’s.”

The top nine Test teams will play 27 series comprising 71 matches‚ with the top two sides set to meet in the final in June 2021. A total of 120 points will be on offer in every rubber of at least two matches‚ and awarded differently depending on the number of games.

“It’s refreshing; as the players, we are looking forward to this new chapter of Test cricket.”

Du Plessis is SA’s captain in all formats‚ but he built his career as a Test player — and still regards his whites as his Sunday best.

“I feel Test cricket is in a healthy state. The players who play all three formats will attest to the fact that Test cricket is the purest format of the game and it is still the No 1 format.

“The younger generation may enjoy the hustle and bustle of T20 cricket but when a Test match goes down to the final hour on the fifth day‚ that entertainment is hard to beat.”

Yet Du Plessis‚ along with South Africans disappointed by SA’s first-round exit from the 2019 World Cup‚ may be surprised to know he is most successful as a captain at one-day level.

SA have won 71.79% of their ODIs under him and 60% of their T20s.

Tests? Much more goes into winning in the most challenging format than in the white-ball stuff‚ but there is no arguing with the fact that Du Plessis’ Test winning percentage of 58.62 is his lowest.

The WTC is a good reason to change that.