Faf du Plessis wasn’t meant to play in Australia, but he got his chance after JP Duminy’s injury. While those who keep an eye on South African domestic cricket will be familiar with his talent, it’s great news that he’s finally proven himself internationally as more than a hit and giggle specialist. By ANT SIMS.
When you examine the way Faf du Plessis made his debut in Adelaide against Australia, you’d hardly say he was a man who had a horrific moment walking out to bat in a Test for the first time.
In both his innings, he was cool, calm and composed. Yet Du Plessis’ way out to the square was in fact a nerve-wracking experience: totally in contrast to what he managed on the field.
“I had an absolute shocker going down the stairs in that first innings. My boot clipped one of the stairs and my whole foot came out. I had to kneel in front of the whole crowd while they were abusing me from both sides. My shoelaces were tied and my pad was in the way and I couldn't get my foot back in. I was thinking I was going to get timed here," Du Plessis recalls.
"My foot slipped three-quarters of the way down and I thought I would have to run on like that and sort it out when I got there. Then my first step forward hit another step and I almost tripped. When I got on the field, I thought it can't go worse than that."
Of course it didn’t get worse; it only got much, much better. He scored 78 in the first innings and was the star of the Proteas’ Great Escape as he batted and batted and batted for an unbeaten 110 off 376 balls. The visitors, meanwhile, salvaged the second Test from what looked like a dead and buried match. To understand just how emphatic their work was, one has to remember that it was only the fourth draw at the ground in the last 19 years.
Du Plessis combined with schoolmate AB de Villiers to save South Africa’s final session on the fourth day, as the two grinded out an 89-run partnership off 68 overs. On the surface, it looked painful, but for Du Plessis, it was just sticking to basics.
"I just tried to keep my game plan very simple," the 28-year-old Du Plessis told reporters. "Make them bowl at me and just take it an hour by an hour.
"If you looked at it yesterday, it was quite a long way away. AB and Jacques really helped me a lot. I had goosebumps - it's the record for the longest [attack of] goosebumps ever,” he joked.
Both his knocks in the Test were powerful and precise. He never wavered his concentration; he never looked unsettled or troubled, even when Peter Siddle was charging in at him full steam. Du Plessis never looked like he was out of place: he simply seemed at home and serene. In short, his debut was stellar – much like Vernon Philander’s last year.
Which can only be a good thing for South African cricket.
Australia has, furthermore, become something of a stage for young players to get their names in lights. Four years ago, it was JP Duminy who broke through after Ashwell Prince was injured. This time it’s Du Plessis whose turn is up, and the 28-year-old has definitely made it count.
It’s taken him a few years, and if he manages more of the same in Perth, the Titans’ man could be set for a long future with the Proteas. Yet he so very nearly became another South African lost to the English county system when he was playing for Nottinghamshire's second team. He notched runs left, right and centre; for Notts, it was a heck of a surprise. Du Plessis was asked to return to play for the team and through his county experience, qualified to play for England.
He was at a crossroads, deciding whether to play for a county and possibly England, much sooner than he would play for South Africa; or whether he wanted to stay on and ply his trade with the Titans. Luckily for South Africa, he picked his home country.
Now all he wants to do is make a name for himself in all formats of the game. For the last two years, Du Plessis has changed his mindset, his training and his focus to the longer format of the game. While he was initially considered a short-format specialist, and while he is still setting the world alight in T20 cricket, he has shifted to fit into the mould of being a Test cricketer.
His opportunity might have come a little bit sooner than expected, but he made it count. And with his talent, he’ll be the kind of player South Africa can count on in years to come. DM
Photo: South Africa's Faf du Plessis (R) leaves the Adelaide cricket ground at the end of the fifth day's play of the second test cricket match against Australia November 26, 2012. REUTERS/Regi Varghese