Johannesburg - A week ago, Eric Simons said the most eye-catching feature of the current Proteas team was how they have consistently managed to dig themselves out of holes without the injured Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers.
As all coaches like to point out, the former Proteas coach said that ability was a sign of a good team.
Judging by Faf du Plessis’s decision making, it would appear the Proteas captain appears to be a bigger fan of watching his teams get themselves out of sticky situations rather than cruising through matches.
Du Plessis proved that on Thursday with his decision to bat in the third and final Test against Sri Lanka, when every other captain would have chosen to bowl.
Sure, the old adage in cricket goes “you win the toss, you bat”, but on a grassy Wanderers pitch in overcast conditions?
It also didn’t help his argument that the South Africans had chosen no less than four quicks for the game, which may have convinced most to let loose the dogs of fast bowling on a Sri Lankan team which has battled with the bouncier local pitches.
But Du Plessis, a man who has taken the circuitous route to cricket’s top table, looks like a man determined to drag his team on the path well travelled in their quest to regain the number one ranking.
A sort so into his cooking he has a restaurant in the Western Cape, so fashion-conscious he has had a hand in designing the Proteas’ T20 jerseys, Du Plessis appears determined to challenge his team at every turn in their declared quest to explore the extremities of their collective ability.
Take poor Hashim Amla, for example. Going into his 100th Test with a whopping 10 innings since his last 50, Amla may have expected his captain to facilitate a hundredth cap he could celebrate with some runs by granting him an opportunity to celebrate his milestone with runs by batting second.
There was no such luck as Amla found himself on 10 runs off 47 deliveries at some stage on day one, sparring at phantom deliveries and making batting look every bit as difficult as the experts say it is.
The moral of that story is Amla took on the challenge and did make runs in the end, but surely the skipper could have made his life a little easier on his 100th?
Coupled with the inexplicable mint episode and the bold declaration in Australia, Du Plessis’ captaincy can come across a little like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, but his gut feel is vindicated more often than not.
As a man who has taken the back routes to where he is, Du Plessis has failed and therefore is not afraid of failing, which shows itself in his willingness to try things in real time during matches.
This is a far cry from the typical SA captaincy style, which can be a bit by the numbers.
On their feet
Make no mistake he will be pilloried when one of his many gambles doesn’t work one of these days. But if ever there was a perfect candidate for custodian of the way the Proteas reportedly want to play the game going forward, Du Plessis is it.
There is a refreshing honesty in how he deals with everyone and his ruthless refusal to let anyone operate below standard.
By the time he’s done with them, the Proteas will have learnt to think on their feet, a far cry from our World Cup-botching teams.
Follow Simnikiwe @Simxabanisa