Cricket: SA into tri-series final as Faf du Plessis continues to blossom
South Africa beat Zimbabwe on Thursday to ensure they got their spot in the final of the ongoing tri-series in Zimbabwe. Faf du Plessis hit yet another hundred and continues to impress in a format where his place wasn’t even assured just a few months ago. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
South Africa have sealed their spot in the final of the tri-series between them, Australia and Zimbabwe. A 63-run win over Zimbabwe on Thursday saw them through to face the Aussies in Harare on the weekend. Their victory came largely thanks to one man who has been leading the way with the bat. Faf du Plessis scored yet another hundred as South Africa posted 271-6 in 50 overs, a bridge too far for the tournament hosts.
Out of all the things that South Africa have done right (and wrong) on this tour, Du Plessis’ exploits have been some of the most encouraging, and that’s something many will feel has been a long time coming.
Faf du Plessis is a bit of a late bloomer. It took him a few years longer than his best friend AB de Villiers to make it into the South African team, and he almost chose the Kevin Pietersen route.
Between Kolpak contracts, changing Kolpak rules and contracts with clauses that would see him qualify for England, Du Plessis’ journey to here has not been quite so straight-forward, but he will be the first to tell you that it’s been worth it.
South African fans, too, will be thanking their lucky stars that Du Plessis preferred biltong to bangers and that they can call him theirs. It might have taken three years and an axing from the national one-day team, but he is starting to make himself invaluable in the limited overs format.
Since returning to the one-day team against Zimbabwe this year, Du Plessis has only scored less than 40 once. He has gone from having no hundreds in the format to having three. Du Plessis now averages 74.57 in Zim and his batting average has gone from 27.55 to 34.55 in just a handful of games. The mediocre opposition of Zimbabwe aside, he has showed that he can be as adaptable as he can be dependable. For somebody who, just a few months ago, wasn’t all that sure of his place in the one-day side, it seems almost inconceivable to now imagine the team without him.
Such is the nature of sport. Opportunities multiply as they are seized and Du Plessis has certainly done that with style. He is first South African to hit three centuries in a one-day tournament, including ICC events.
Most of South Africa's big-name players faltered on Thursday. Neither Quinton de Kock nor Hashim Amla managed to pass 15. AB de Villiers continued his commitment to freakish dismissals and David Miller continued to be distinctly average, while Rilee Rossouw finally managed to get off the mark, but not enough to blow anyone’s hair back. Yet Du Plessis remained the constant in the order. JP Duminy scored a half century for the first time since December last year as he and Du Plessis combined for a 105-run stand for the fifth wicket.
That the Affies Boy has rocketed in estimations so quickly is perhaps not too much of a surprise. He has been one of South Africa’s most reliable performers in 2014. It’s easy to get lost in the glow of Hashim Amla’s elegance and AB de Villiers’ innovation, but Du Plessis is becoming a South African stalwart very quickly. In all formats for South Africa this year, he has registered just seven scores of below 20 (out of 24 innings). Compare that to last year's effort of 21 out of 41 innings and there has been a fairly drastic improvement in a very short space of time, particularly in the limited overs format. His performances in the one-day format were particularly lean in 2013; he scored just 539 runs in 21 matches, but number three is clearly where he is most comfortable. He averages 51.57 in 14 matches batting there, compared to 22.28, 26.70 and 35.25 at number four, five and six respectively. Players owning a specific role, or perhaps finding one they are comfortable in, form part of the little things that sets up a great team.
While there is much time left until the World Cup comes around, Du Plessis kicking into the right gear could not have come at a better time. While it would be foolish and unfair to try to compare him to the man who vacated the number three spot recently - Jacques Kallis – he does have a similar air of calm about him and it’s a role where he feels he fits in far better, but he’s under no illusions about just how quickly things can change.
“I’m hitting the ball nicely, but I feel I can still improve quite a bit. I’m enjoying the number three role; I think it suits me a lot better than it did at number six. What is really important for me is to get big runs when you are in some sort of form. It (form) can change really quickly, I need to make sure I keep putting in big runs for the team,” Du Plessis said.
Cricket might not be a one-man sport, but one man sure can make one heck of a difference. South Africa will be hoping Du Plessis continues to plough his purple patch for such fruitful harvests to the World cup and beyond. DM
Photo: Faf du Plessis throws at the stumps to dismiss Kane Williamson during the final one-day cricket international against South Africa, in Auckland, March 3, 2012. REUTERS/Nigel Marple