Wanderers: Heroes’ heartbreaker!

2015-01-12 12:00
Faf du Plessis (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Feats of rare heroism ... yet agony for the architects just a little later on the same day.

That is the characteristic the Wanderers, that veritable limited-overs batting paradise, is fast developing.

It is the place that deceptively fetes fine cricketers, then almost as swiftly bites them rather cruelly on the bum.

At least three times in well-attended limited-overs internationals over the last eight years or so, extraordinary innings have then gone unrewarded in a team context - with South Africa twice victorious and once victims.

It was finally the Proteas’ turn to feel the unexpected sting in the tail on Sunday, as a blistering maiden Twenty20 international century (119 off just 56 balls, strike rate 212) from captain Faf du Plessis, in a total of 231 for seven, wasn’t enough for a home triumph as West Indies gleefully secured the three-match series early.

The right-hander’s withering onslaught was just about - yet decisively in the final analysis - matched by in-form Caribbean blaster Chris Gayle, who built on his earlier Newlands carnage to register 90 whirlwind runs of his own at a strike rate of almost 220.

So Du Plessis found himself bittersweet holder of the T20 international record for highest individual score in a defeat ... it was just that kind of match.

Ironically, Gayle knows well how his South African opponent would have felt afterwards, considering that he was on the receiving end of similar torment at the Bullring at the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 in September 2007: the big Jamaican lashed 117 off 57 deliveries as the Windies sat smugly at 205 for six at the “turn”.

But  then a certain Herschelle Gibbs got into one of his famed moods at the crease, scoring an unbeaten 90 off 55 balls as the Proteas incredibly got over the line with more than two overs to spare and eight wickets still in the bank.

The earlier and most legendary instance of one fabulous innings quickly being eclipsed by another in the same contest at  Wanderers came in the “438 game” ... that eventful March 12, 2006 ODI series-decider between South Africa and Australia which is still widely branded the best 50-overs international of all time.

In that immortal fixture, Aussie captain Ricky Ponting issued hideous punishment to the unsuspecting Proteas’ attack as his career-best, 105-ball knock of 164 (it stayed that way until his retirement) proved the backbone of a record-setting total of 434 for four.

But if the visitors almost inevitably suspected at that point that their first-time hoisting of 400-plus in an ODI match would be more than enough, they were in a for a serious surprise, as Herschelle Gibbs - batting with a later-confessed hangover - eclipsed Ponting with his own career-topping innings of 175 (111 deliveries) and South Africa romped to victory with one ball left.

There were many inevitable, domestic jokes afterwards about Australians having to learn how to place a champagne cork back in the bottle, and the like.

But that is what the Wanderers has become more and more synonymous with: fairytales coming to life only to do so in a bigger, better way hours later.

That trend continuing at the ground would probably not find disfavour - even if it stops their hearts at times - with the good citizens of Johannesburg, would it?

On the brighter side for someone like Faf du Plessis, he would have woken on Monday presumably more than a bit stiff, sore and with a puzzled array of emotions.

But he would also, hopefully, have taken stock of the bigger picture, and realised that his majestic form in this T20 mini-series thus far may be a harbinger of similar personal fruits for him at the higher-gravitas World Cup, which is now little more than a month away.

Certainly many neutrals, marvelling at his combination of stroke-playing orthodoxy and assuredness plus outrageous yet lethal improvisation and gambler’s spirit, will be nervously contemplating the possibility that the Proteas truly sport a handful of potential match-winners at the crease come CWC 2015, if you confidently now add the name of Du Plessis to AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, David Miller and Quinton de Kock as likely game-breakers.

That is, if pesky people like Christopher Henry Gayle don’t get in the way too often.

At least the Wanderers, that field of oft-simultaneous dreams and disaster, sees no World Cup action at all ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  faf du plessis  |  cricket

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