Cape Town – AB de Villiers has unintentionally cleared the
way for his old Affies schoolmate and long-time friend Faf du Plessis to vault
to unprecedented personal prominence in international cricket.
The revelation on Tuesday that De Villiers, captain of both
the South African one-day international and Test sides, will miss the
successive series in each format against Australia over the next few weeks due
to surgery for an elbow injury pushes Du Plessis into leadership focus in a
more pronounced way than ever before.
Already confirmed as obvious skipper replacement for the
home ODIs beginning at SuperSport Park on Friday, Du Plessis also seems a mere
shoo-in for leading the Proteas’ three-Test assault on Aussie shores during
The latter challenge carries the heavier gravitas and it is
a tantalising opportunity for Du Plessis – even if his team will naturally now
be a juggernaut batsman light – to emulate an iconic predecessor, Graeme Smith
(who has overseen it twice), by toppling the Baggy Greens in their own backyard.
He is already well entrenched in the demands of leadership
through his post as captain of the SA Twenty20 side, and the big clincher, if
it was even necessary, for him to front the Test series for the visitors at
Perth, Hobart and Adelaide will surely have been the compelling way he guided a
rebuilding Proteas outfit to powerful triumph over New Zealand in the decisive
five-dayer at Centurion recently – when De Villiers was already an absentee.
The 32-year-old led conspicuously from the front, registering
a timely century himself after an unusually lean year or so for him in the
format, and piloted the polished, urgent broader cause in a calm, considered
It certainly seemed as though he “had the dressing room”
there; the Proteas looked a reawakening force.
De Villiers has a different style – arguably more frantic, more
demonstrative, more gung-ho – as a captain, and although he has had a fairly
tempestuous time of it at both ODI and (still fleeting) Test level so far, it
should also be remembered that he came as close as any predecessor to steering South
Africa to a maiden World Cup triumph in late March 2015; we will never know
just how much their campaign was derailed by a much-publicised “political”
flashpoint at a critical time.
A fine, internationally proven batsman in his own right, Du
Plessis has tended to play second fiddle in recognition terms to a good extent
to the exemplary exploits of De Villiers and Hashim Amla at the crease.
But he will go to Australia for the Test series very handily
fuelled, even as he juggles the cares of almost certain leadership too, by
knowledge of how outstandingly he fared as a scrapper – and Aussies admire
those, even when not home-grown – in the 2012/13 series win.
Making his debut in the second Test at Adelaide at the
reasonably seasoned age in first-class cricket of 28, the right-hander catapulted
to instant five-day stardom (and was hugely-deserved official man of the match)
with respective innings of 78 and 110 not out.
The second knock was especially monumental, as he negotiated
a marathon, near eight hours on a crumbling pitch at No 6 to help secure a
priceless draw against huge odds.
He was then top-scorer in the first innings (78 not out) for
the Proteas in the decisive third and final Test at the WACA, even if the
really mammoth South African total came in their second innings with De
Villiers and Amla hungrily to the fore.
Make no mistake, South Africa have been painfully smacked in
the guts by the knowledge that De Villiers won’t be in their midst in November.
But if you were looking for as seamless a captaincy transfer
as possible, then Du Plessis will grasp the baton from his pal with
particularly appealing comfort.
Are we headed for the loftiest time in his career of
Francois du Plessis?
Be careful not to stake too much against it.