Cape Town - Faf du Plessis, in a development parallel with
and certainly linked to South Africa’s gradual renaissance in both brands of
limited-overs cricket recently, has reason to feel he is up and running as an
international performer once more.
It has been a difficult few months, to put it mildly, for Du
Plessis, who carved his name in Test folklore on debut only last summer with
that monumental 466-minute vigil to save the match against Australia at
Adelaide Oval, but has mostly been having a rotten old time of things – notably
in the 50-overs format for the Proteas -- subsequently.
But if Mother Cricket is famous, or notorious if you prefer,
for making worrisome “corrections” to individuals’ fortunes, the game also has
a kinder side in allowing the firmer of spirit to re-emerge both unscathed and
wiser from any sudden periods of darkness.
The later part of the one-day international series against
Pakistan, when South Africa romped clear to secure a convincing 4-1 outcome,
had seen first seeds of revival at the crease by the 29-year-old.
It has been in the immediate follow-up Twenty20 series,
however, in which the Titans stalwart has really restored his reputation to
more desirable levels.
Du Plessis grabbing both the player of the match and player
of the series awards after Friday’s tense triumph in Dubai to clinch a 2-0
outcome fittingly reflected that: the more cynically-minded might be tempted to
say those laurels mean considerably more than the “best fielder in the inner
circle” cheques he has been banking so regularly during the limited-overs
combat in the Emirates.
He led the batting charge in game two, this time after
taking first strike, registering top score across the teams of 58 not out at a
strike rate of 120, which also meant he totalled 95 runs in the mini-series
without being dismissed.
It was a powerful response to the pretty understandable
pre-series lobby who suggested the additional demand of captaincy might prove
too much for him in his quest to rediscover his batting lustre.
Truth be told, this turned out to be almost certainly Du
Plessis’ most authoritative match yet as skipper of the “third” trade by the
Leading from the front by individual performance is a great
start, of course, but he was also able to cut a composed and commanding figure
at the helm of a gritty triumph, where the Pakistanis had threatened several
times to avenge their clueless and spineless loss in the first encounter.
Du Plessis called almost all of his tactical shots astutely,
whether it involved field placements to particular batsmen or the timing of
bowling changes or introductions to the attack, and just as importantly managed
it all with a serenity and maturity that seemed to rub off well on everyone
As if by cherry on top, he took a vital diving catch late in
the game to dismiss Shahid Afridi, that walking advertisement (albeit a
perplexingly moody one) for X-factor, when the big-hitting all-rounder was just
looking ripe for ending the match in “home” favour with a couple of lethal long
While the deployment of Du Plessis as a senior batting
figure in the ODI side warrants further harsh scrutiny during the return series
on SA soil, at least he can enter the again two-game T20 portion brimming with
personal confidence – hostilities start at the Wanderers on Wednesday -- about
what he offers statistically to the cause in that particular landscape.
Remember that his brace of meaty, unbeaten knocks in Dubai
came after a career-best 85 against Sri Lanka in Hambantota in mid-year.
All three influential innings have come with the captain in
the key No 3 position, and he can also boast now leading his country to
successive T20 series wins in Subcontinent conditions – both of them outcomes
that suggest the Proteas can be as competitive as anyone at the Bangladesh-staged
ICC World Twenty20 next year.
Du Plessis, after 13 T20 internationals (which admittedly
makes his presence still a fairly fledgling one) has nudged his batting average
ever northward of late, to 39.80, which is luminary stuff in this environment.
For instance, New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum, currently the
top international runs-scorer in the format with 1,882 after 62 matches,
averages 35.50 and the leading South African JP Duminy (ninth on the overall
list with 1,084 from 46 caps) has an average of 34.96.
Safe in his T20 shoes, Du Plessis no doubt hopes that this
security bodes well for more positive personal vibes just around the bend in
the 50-overs game ...
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