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South Africa look to du Plessis to repeat previous feats

Faf du Plessis will be hoping he can produce one of his signature resolute innings on the final day in Hamilton Getty Images

Although South Africa know they have what assistant coach Adrian Birrell called a "mountain to climb" to avoid defeat on the final day to New Zealand, they also know they have summited these kinds of peaks before: Adelaide 2012, Johannesburg 2013, Colombo 2014. Three famous blockathons with one common denominator: Faf du Plessis.

Now captain, du Plessis was on debut when he spent seven hours and 26 minutes denying Australia, a year into his career when he took six hours and 35 minutes to keep India at bay and although he wasn't the only obstacle against Sri Lanka a year later, he provided two hours and 10 minutes of resistance. He will have to do something similar in Hamilton and he is ready.

"We have a captain there who is very determined, who has fought before, and that's what we are speaking about in the changing room. We haven't lost the match yet. We are 95 runs behind, there are 98 overs tomorrow. We hope to draw on those good experiences that we have had in the recent past, so we can fight it out," Birrell said.

This time, however, du Plessis has an improbable assistant. Quinton de Kock is not known for biding time and will not be encouraged to do that in the name of survival. "It's not only batting out. The runs we accumulate will also be important. If we look back at the previous Test, Quinton and Temba [Bavuma] scored a 160-run partnership at a rate of 4.3, and that changed the context of that match. So we look for him to score," Birrell said. "If he goes defensive, it is probably the worst thing for him. We won't just stonewall it and go totally defensive. If we bat 50 or 60 overs tomorrow, we will be ahead and we will look to get as far ahead as we can."

South Africa may not realistically be chasing victory, but they will be focused on getting themselves onto solid ground to ensure they can hold on to their series lead and take home the trophy. Australia's defeat in India also means there is the chance for them to go up to No. 2 on the rankings, which du Plessis outlined was their goal, but they will have to overcome the exhaustion of the last few days, particularly the fourth. "There is fatigue because of the 162 overs, especially with the fast bowlers," Birrell said. "They toiled well and tried hard. With time on the legs, there is also a fair amount of fatigue. But a good night's rest and a good breakfast and we'll be fresh tomorrow."

It's exactly that tiredness New Zealand hope to cash in on as they search for their own fairy-tale end to the summer, but they know it won't be as simple as they would like. "It hasn't been easy. It's taken a toll on them. It took a toll on us in other parts of the series," Jeetan Patel said. "We've put in four days of hard work and to get five wickets tonight is a good start. We would have loved to have got one more. It's a pretty important partnership for us to break between Faf and de Kock. We know that they can grind us down and score at a rate that will make it difficult if we need to chase something at the back end."

And there's one other thing they need to consider. Though South Africa's top six have struggled in the series, the lower order has held them together and Birrell warned that at least one of them intend to do exactly the same thing tomorrow. "We take great heart that we've been able to get decent totals by guys in the middle order really putting fantastic performances together. We've got two in-form batsmen there, and Vernon who is capable of a Test hundred. Tomorrow will be a good day for that."