Faf du Plessis – The Vigilante of South African Cricket
In an age where the narrative around Cricket is constantly changing, a sport that once had just two formats to now accommodating even The Hundred, where basing a career in has taken a backseat to milking money from. Where talents play as opponents first only to become teammates the next day thanks to T20 leagues, it’s rare to find consistency.
Rather, time has come to ask fans and those who dabble with punditry- just how important is consistency in an age where Cricket, apart from being commercialised, is seen filling the vacuum of entertainment?
And if holding the baton for one’s nation still as relevant as finding oneself adapting to whatever cricket’s changing vagaries ask of its devotees- then have we properly examined Faf du Plessis?
Who is Faf du Plessis?
For a career that was born amid crisis- South Africa on the brink of a great defeat at Adelaide, only to find a young debutant hold his ground in striking a century (110 v Australia)- and continues to flourish amid one- think those 11,000 plus international runs, aged 37, at a time where political control over their cricket is still very much a reality- Faf is no less than a national hero.
Except the country to which he belongs doesn’t believe in making Gods out of mortals, which is actually even better for all that Faf du Plessis – former captain, rescuer, smooth sailor, frequent run hitter – has done for South Africa. This makes one react with awe given he’s a man of flesh and blood albeit one of a lion-hearted will.
22 centuries, 56 fifties, a highest individual score of 185 in ODIs, over 1,500 T20I runs, pounding 888 Test runs versus Australia and striking Sri Lanka with 1,100 ODI runs, Francois du Plessis has done more than what he’s gotten in return for a country for whom de Villiers is an icon and Faf is not nearly as great.
Though in reality, it was Faf who extended the love for the game and blazed a legacy that de Villiers, the genius left behind, with unfettered excellence and boundless enthusiasm.
Not to mention, an astonishing show of dominance in white-ball cricket where starting 2017-19, having reached the declining years of prowess and reflexes, Faf scored ODI runs at an average of 60, 62, and 67- respectively.
When de Villiers stepped back from the captaincy in December 2016, a period in which South Africa were nearing their decline accentuated by frequent injuries to key names, one man stood up and made himself counted.
Not the man with silken touch, Hashim Amla and not the force with Steyn-gun of deadly pace either; it was Faf du Plessis. The man under whose leadership South Africa registered a famous Test series win in Australia, 2016, the man under whose captaincy South Africa hammered India in 2018 at home.
The very man, who after rescuing South Africa, time and again from the unlikeliest of situations, today finds himself having to knock on the doors for selection in the upcoming T20 World Cup squad.
The conundrum, if any, that surrounds Faf, who’s played 50 T20Is for South Africa, remaining unbeaten in 7, and scoring runs at a strike rate north of 134, is not of capability or availability but of the team’s make up!
Whether Faf should play a key ICC event reminds one of his importance to the team, a lifelong example of which would lead the Protea fan to revisit a heart-breaking albeit meltingly beautiful semi-final contest (50 over World Cup) of 2015, where he single handedly made 82 of South Africa’s 281 runs.
In the aftermath of the contest where everyone was in tears, the South African hearts crushed, one man controlled his tears, not because the river ran dry but because the true measure of a man is his poise under pressure and his control amid adversity.
That was Francois du Plessis!
Whether Faf is made to play ultimately will rest in hands of those who probably may not consider his selection as being a litmus test where alongside exuberance of youth, what one may need is also experience, that of a soldier unwilling to put the gun down.
The truth certainly is that whilst his career doesn’t boast of multiple double hundreds nor has seen South Africa lift a prominent ICC crown, Faf has seldom choked under pressure and fought fire to fire when the chips were down.
Picture 2019 ODI World Cup where no South African went on to hit the three-figure mark save their captain- Faf du Plessis, whose 100, that came at better than a run a ball gave fans something to cheer about when the scenes were listless.
Not that Faf du Plessis’ 100, which came against a Starc and Hazlewood-powered Australia helped ease the hurt the campaign brought to a team that had seen far better days in the past.
Though forget not that in an age where Faf too may have gladly retracted and decided to take it easy, playing the safe option as did a few in their times, he continued fighting bowlers and detractors alike with the bat.
In 2019, when aged no spring chicken at 35, du Plessis hammered 814 runs in the ODI calendar year.
In some ways, he’s matured like fine wine that gets better with age minus any hang-ups or bitterness toward anyone. Make no mistake though- he’s no monk and been found guilty of ball tampering, a controversial saga that’s hurt the South Africa-Australia contests in the path.
But whenever the team needed a figurehead to hold it together- Faf held it close to his, against a beating heart displaying- not showing off- those throbbing veins and that burlesque Sparta-like figure.
What verdict might one pass on the career of a hard-as-nails cricketer who emerged as a tough cookie, stroking a deadly 199 against Sri Lanka just last year to help his team achieve yet another series triumph against an opponent its often toyed with?
That’s a matter that cricket will be convinced to pass a ruling on and cannot shy away from akin to the soldier who never shied away too in rescuing an often-embattled Proteas, much like a lion, often single-handedly.
Caught at Point Podcast
For more info on the South African vigilante of cricket, check out Caught at Point’s Podcast where Dev Tyagi and Pranay Rangra discuss his impact on the sport: