Faf du Plessis. Picture: EPA/DAVE HUNT
Faf du Plessis. Picture: EPA/DAVE HUNT

Only six of the 15 players who featured for SA in the Test series in India are in action for their franchises in the four-day matches that started on Monday.

Aiden Markram and Keshav Maharaj have valid reasons for not playing: they are injured. But the rest of the squad, who delivered SA’s worst series result in 83 years — they lost 3-0‚ twice by an innings — have a case to answer.

When a team has performed as poorly as they have‚ in all departments‚ the least they can do is be seen to be finding answers for their problems.

And especially so when their only available avenue to give a better account of themselves in the series against England‚ which starts in Centurion on December 26‚ is to play for their franchises.

But only Heinrich Klaasen‚ Senuran Muthusamy‚ Lungi Ngidi‚ Dane Piedt‚ Zubayr Hamza and George Linde reported for duty on Monday.

That leaves Faf du Plessis‚ Temba Bavuma‚ Theunis de Bruyn‚ Quinton de Kock‚ Dean Elgar‚ Anrich Nortjé and Vernon Philander up the creek without the paddle of an excuse for not being on the field.

They would have done well to use the downtime to watch Dale Steyn in a television interview on Monday and take seriously what he said: “If you get off that wheel you lose your fitness‚ you lose your competitive edge and it’s something that I’ve tried to hold on to during the rains here in Cape Town.”

Steyn was talking about the relentlessness needed by players in T20 tournaments‚ but his words apply as much to SA’s situation.

On his return from India on Friday‚ Du Plessis told reporters: “I don’t know a lot about domestic structures because I don’t spend a lot of time in domestic structures.”

Whose fault is that? And why did Hashim Amla spend the India series sitting on a couch in SuperSport’s studio rather than playing franchise cricket to make the game stronger?

“Unfortunately‚ in SA right now‚ players that retire from international cricket are not going to stay and play domestic cricket‚” Du Plessis said. “They will either play overseas or retire completely.

“Hashim Amla and those guys‚ you can’t expect them to go back and play four-day cricket because they won’t. They won’t do that.

“They’ve been in the international game for so long‚ they are either going to move on to different pastures — not necessarily greener pastures — but then they will also completely stop.

“I don’t think it’s a real expectation to have‚ to say those guys must go and play domestic cricket because I don’t think it’s a reality that will most likely ever be met.

“India was a really tough tour mentally‚ and to just say to the guys: ‘Now you have to go and play’‚ won’t be the right way to go about it. If a guy doesn’t want to go and play what’s the point of him playing. There will be no benefit.”

There has to be a better argument for players not turning out for their franchises than “because they won’t”.

If their boss — Cricket SA — orders them to play, who are they to say they won’t?

David Warner had almost a month off after the Ashes. But then he played two Sheffield Shield matches and a one-day game for New South Wales and‚ four days after that‚ turned out for Australia again in a T20 against Sri Lanka.

That is not to suggest Du Plessis does not have a point. Indeed he is his own supporting evidence.

SA’s captain was on the field for more than 60% of all the overs bowled in the India series — a heavy physical workload that does not begin to measure the psychological and emotional toll taken on a team so thoroughly beaten.

So maybe SA’s players should be cut some slack for their invisibility this week.

But in the same few days in which their rugby counterparts have scrapped their way into the World Cup final‚ they cannot expect an easy ride in the public eye.