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Du Plessis praises young South Africa squad after series win

Associated Press Associated Press 27/11/2016 By JOHN PYE, AP Sports Writer

ADELAIDE, Australia — Faf du Plessis reckons he'll forget about the booing, eventually, and his enduring memories of the Australian tour will be about South Africa's against-the-odds series win.

South Africa's depth was tested when its inspirational captain was ruled out before the tour because of injury, and leading paceman Dale Steyn broke down on the second day of the series.

"Obviously there were a lot of questions asked. We lost A.B. (de Villiers), which is a massive player. We lost Dale," Du Plessis said Sunday, summing up the 2-1 series win after Australia rallied to claim the third match by seven wickets.

"Before the series, if you told the South Africa team they'd lost those two players, they would say to you we had no chance to beat Australia."

The South Africans were in dire trouble at 81-5 on day one in Perth, but recovered with an innings-reviving partnership between Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma to reach 242. Australia raced to 158 in reply, until Steyn dismissed David Warner for 97. It turned out to be Steyn's only real contribution to the series.

And it proved to be a turning point — in South Africa's favor.

Enter Kagiso Rabada, in his ninth test, who took two big wickets in the first innings to back up Vernon Philander, the new leader of the attack, who took four. Rabada returned to take five wickets in the second innings of a 177-run win.

In Hobart, Philander was unplayable on the first morning, taking 5-21 as Australia was skittled for 85. Kyle Abbott, coming into the XI to replace Steyn and playing his eighth test, took three wickets in the first innings and 6-77 in the second, when Rabada chimed in with four as South Africa won by an innings and 80 runs to clinch the series.

In the meantime, Dean Elgar and J.P. Duminy posted centuries in Perth, where de Kock scored two half-centuries. In Hobart, where the Australian batsmen made the wicket appear unplayable, de Kock scored a century and shared another important partnership with Bavuma that helped set South Africa on course for its massive victory.

Du Plessis scored an unbeaten 118 in the first innings in Adelaide — South Africa's first experience of a day-night test — before making tactical declaration at 259-9 on the first night. That will stay with him as a lesson in the pink ball format.

Australia replied with 383 and was on top, but Stephen Cook prolonged South Africa's resistance with a gritty 104 in the second innings — his highest score since a century on debut against England in January.

"I said before the series this will be a great tour for young guys to make names for themselves, and the guys did that," du Plessis said. "Everyone stepped up — everyone put their hands up at different stages."

Philander was voted player of the series for his 12 wickets and 136 runs with the bat, including a high of 73. Rabada was second in the bowling ranks with 15 wickets — in between established Australian pair Josh Hazlewood with 17 and Mitchell Starc with 14. Abbott was a constant threat in his two tests, taking 13 wickets at an average of 14.84.

Du Plessis had a tumultuous last week, being found guilty by the International Cricket Council of ball tampering, after he was seen putting his fingers in his mouth while he was sucking a mint, then shining the ball in Hobart.

Cricket South Africa appealed the verdict, and du Plessis said he's been unfairly made a scapegoat for doing something that cricketers all over the world have long done.

It dominated headlines in Australia the day before the test, and du Plessis was loudly booed as he walked out to bat. Some in the crowd booed when he reached his century.

"The last couple of days there was a little bit of huff and puff," du Plessis said. "From a cricket point of view, what will stick me is winning this series.

"From a personal note, to overcome everything that happened and to score a hundred in that first innings is something I'll remember forever."

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